The gay-marriage debate has garnered much attention in recent months following the general election results and interest of the Supreme Court to tackle the issue in 2013. Earlier this month, the Supreme Court pledged to hear two cases on gay marriage. Specifically the constitutionality of the federal law, the National Defense of Marriage Act will be addressed. This law currently denies benefits to homosexual couples, even if married in states where same-sex marriage is permissible. Together with discussion on DOMA, California’s Proposition 8 is set to be evaluated, as many believe that its passage took away many rights previously afforded to gay and lesbian people.
The first legislation up for discussion is the Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA, which was passed by Congress and signed into official law by President Clinton in 1996. The law outlines marriage as the “legal union of one man and one woman for federal and inter-state purposes in the United States”. The majority of states have borrowed language from the national legislation in constructing their own legislation prohibiting same-sex marriage as a means to defend the sanctity of marriage. Yet recently, as of December 2012 nine states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriages; the most recent being Washington and Maryland with ballot measures during the November 2012 election. Clearly societal change is underway which necessitates the involvement of the federal court to examine long-held national legislation and its effectiveness and appropriateness in a changing world.
A consensus among all states on this issue does not yet exist and there are measures promoted in favor of and against same-sex marriage across the country. These divisions of course contribute to the complexities at the federal level for addressing the topic and reaching a solution. Yet over the years, it is evident that there is an increased public tolerance for gay marriage across the country, which will inevitably have tremendous impact on the course of the debate. Even if the public opinion may not decide the way in which the Supreme Court justices vote, it cannot simply be ignored.
The significance of these recent developments demonstrates a shift in the way we address this public policy for years to come. An issue that was once a societal taboo to discuss is becoming a matter of critical importance. Same-sex marriage is not simply a moral argument, rather it is spanning across various policy spectrums. For one, the Defense of Marriage Act has an impact in the nation’s key immigration debate since a same-sex couple is not able to sponsor a noncitizen spouse in the immigration process. As far as healthcare and financial matters, one may not receive medical leave due to an ailing spouse, collect spousal Social Security benefits, or file joint federal tax returns. As the Supreme Court prepares to tackle the gay marriage debate in the months ahead, whatever opinions are reached will prove to have a lasting and historic impact on this policy and societal matter. Personally, at the risk of being politically incorrect, I wonder why all these rights could not be afforded in a partnership as in Europe without calling the relationship a “marriage”.