Believe it or not, same-sex marriage has been around since ancient times. At least two Roman Emperors, Nero and Elagabalus, were in gay unions. It wasn’t until the advent of Christianity that the practice of same sex marriage was out-lawed by the emperors Constantius II and Constans in 342 AD and has continued to be through-out most of the world until the twenty-first century (Boswell 83). With the advent of gay rights movement in many industrialized countries, same-sex marriage has become more accepted. A prime example of this is what lawmakers in the state of New York did on June 24, 2011. With a thirty-three to twenty-nine vote, the legislature legalized same-sex marriage, making it the largest state where gay and lesbian couples can now get married (New York Times 2011). However, Even with recent legalization of gay marriage in some parts of the nation there are still states that are strongly against it. States such as Alaska, Hawaii, Nebraska and Nevada have, by popular vote, passed Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMAs) as a constitutional amendment. This gives states the legal right not to recognize same-sex marriage from other states where it is legal. I will argue that DOMA legislation is discriminatory and that same-sex couples have a legal right to the same marriage benefits and public acknowledgment enjoyed by heterosexual couples. Also, that second-class remedies such as civil unions and domestic partnerships are insufficient and in some cases degrading. And lastly, that same-sex marriage may be beneficial to society and does not pose a risk to traditional marriage.
So where did this debate begin? Well the current national debate on gay marriage was sparked by the Supreme Court of Hawaii’s ruling on May 5, 1993 that the state could not ban same-sex marriages without “a compelling reason” to do so (Baehr v. Lewin). The case was sent back to a lower court but voters approved a constitutional amendment to ban same-sex marriage before the courts could settle the issue. The case would go on to gain national attention and influence over forty other states through out the next decade to pass DOMAs that defined marriage as a “legal union between one man and one woman” (Masci). Then on Sep. 21, 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the federal Defense of Marriage Act into law, which defined marriage at the federal level as between a man and a woman. The House Judiciary Committee Chairman Henry Hyde was quoted as saying, “Most people do not approve of homosexual conduct…they express their disapprobation through the law.” 142 Con. Rec. H7501 (daily ed. July 12, 1996). Hyde’s statement typifies the anti-gay sentiment that propelled the Defense of Marriage Act through Congress. The federal statute ensured that “No state would be forced to recognize gay marriages performed in other states” and prevented same-sex couples from receiving federal protection and benefits given to married heterosexual couples (Masci). The reason’s that Congress listed for passing legislation for DOMA approval was to advance four governmental interests: Defending and nurturing the institution of traditional marriage, defending traditional notions of morality, protecting state sovereignty, and to preserve scarce governmental resources (Olson).
However, with the unusual nature of the legislation, along with the open display of animosity toward gay people from politicians, strongly suggests that Congress enacted DOMA to discriminate against homosexuals. Mary Bonauto, the civil rights project Director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), said, “Its clear [that DOMAs] purpose was to ensure that when states began licensing marriages of same sex couples in the future, those couples would be denied the full protections, benefits, and responsibilities of marriage.” Bonauto goes on to say that the federal programs to which same-sex married couples are denied