Falling right on the heels of National Coming Out Day and the fifth anniversary of the brutal murder of Matthew Shepard, President Bush has exercised his executive authority to create yet another time of observance of particular interest to the gay and lesbian community nationwide. October 12 through 18 is now, by executive proclamation, Marriage Protection Week.
While this may sound innocuous, even a cursory look at the politics behind this proclamation reveals that this week has nothing to do with encouraging healthy marital relationships and everything to do with targeting a specific minority group for disenfranchisement.
To those who have never had the legality of their marriage brought into question, marriage may appear to be little more than an opportunity to publicly demonstrate lifelong commitment to a partner. But marriage also bestows monumental legal rights that are often taken for granted. In fact, the General Accounting Office has identified 1,049 federal rights in which marriage is a factor. This doesn’t include the average 400 rights bestowed by most states upon married couples. The list includes everything from Social Security and employment benefits to immigration and hospital visitation rights.
Right now in the U.S., not a single state recognizes the marriage of same-sex partners. There are, however, 35 states with so-called “Defense of Marriage Acts,” which explicitly deny the benefits of marriage to gay and lesbian couples. Vermont is the only state that authorizes same-sex civil unions, which bestow state -- but not federal -- rights of marriage. And even if a state were to allow for same-sex marriage, all related rights would be stripped if a couple were to travel to another DOMA state.
It’s easy to argue that DOMA legislation violates the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which guarantees equal protection to all citizens under the law. Furthermore, such laws violate Article 4, Section 1, which requires that each state recognize the “public acts, records and judicial proceedings of every other state.” But so far, no DOMA laws have yet been challenged in federal court.
Conservative legislators have devised a particularly creative solution to the problem of Constitutionality: amend the Constitution. The proposed Federal Marriage Amendment would not only “codify” marriage as a union between a man and a woman, but would also explicitly deny states the option of authorizing same-sex marriage, and possibly even rescind civil unions.
In addition to conflicting with Article 4 and the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, establishing a federal definition of marriage would conflict with the Tenth Amendment, which reserves this power for the states. While President Bush has not yet officially endorsed the Federal Marriage Amendment, his proclamation of Marriage Protection Week appears to be a clear indication of his political allegiance.
Gay and lesbian couples aren’t looking for special rights. All they want are the same privileges of citizenship that everyone else already has. The United States Constitution should guarantee equality -- not relegate a select few to second-class status. DOMA legislation establishes a dangerous precedent of dismissing minority rights in response to the bigoted opinion of an abusive majority.
Given the status of current and pending legislation aimed at disenfranchising committed gay and lesbian couples, wouldn’t it be more appropriate to have a “Minority Rights Protection Week?”
Rob Jagnow is a graduate student in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science.