By Sandy Merilan
Over the past few weeks, national attention has been on the on the civil rights versus gay rights issue. The national debate has evolved and many Americans are now in support of homosexuals being married. In 2004 under the Bush Administration, almost a decade ago, opponents of same-sex marriage were lobbying for a nationwide ban on gay nuptials. Then, a majority of Americans supported the idea that marriage was between and man and woman but agreed with civil unions. Now judicial milestones are being made and planned to take the LGBT human rights movement to a new level.
The Supreme Court heard the arguments for and against same-sex marriage in the last week of March about California’s Proposition 8 — the state constitutional amendment enacted by voters in 2008 that limits marriage to one-man-one-woman couples. Justices debated the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and its relevance to gay marriage today and oral arguments were made on the constitutionality of California’s ban on same-sex marriages.
Four of the justices suggested that the law improperly discriminates against gay couples by blocking the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages in the states that permit them. Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked if members of Congress could create any “class of people they don’t like” and deny them benefits.
In the past few months many state politicians have come out to show their support for gay marriage. Senators Mark Begich (Alaska), Tim Kaine (VA), Kay Hagan (N.C.), Claire McCaskill (MO), Jon Tester (Mont.) and Mark Warner (VA) all came out in support of gay marriage. There are now only nine Democratic senators who do not support same-sex marriage: Tom Carper (Del.), Bob Casey (PA.), Joe Donnelly (Ind.), Heidi Heitkamp (N.D.), Tim Johnson (S.D.), Mary Landrieu (La.), Joe Manchin (W.V.), Bill Nelson (Fla.), and Mark Pryor (Ark.).
According to a Washington Post live blog in late March, the decision on these cases that win or lose will make a historical impact on this movement. The Supreme Court is scheduled to make a final rulling on this case in June.
Proposition 8, was a California ballot proposition and a state constitutional amendment passed in the November 2008 state elections. The measure added a new provision, Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights, to the California Constitution, which provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California. It was passed and is currently under appeal. Opponents of proposition 8 are basing their case off the Hollingsworth v. Perry case, which found challenged Proposition 8.
Legislative efforts are underway to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois, and lawsuits by gay couples seeking marriage rights have been filed in several other states. In Oregon, gay-rights activists hope to place a measure on next year’s ballot that would overturn a ban on gay marriage approved by voters in 2004. Legislators in Nevada are debating a bill that could lead to repeal of a similar ban there.
DOMA, crafted in 1996, restricts federal marriage benefits and requires inter-state marriage recognition to only opposite-sex marriages in the United States. It denied legally married same-sex couples a host of federal benefits available to straight married couples, such as social security, health benefits, spousal immigration rights and any other federal aid married people receive.
The Obama administration has shown support, and so has the the U.S. Department of Justice. They agree with the plaintiffs in that the laws are unconstitutional. So with executive branch, most of the legislative branch in support, can the judicial uphold their right of judicial review and protect the rights of millions of American citizens.
Society has become more accepting and knowledgeable of LGBT rights and even if we as a community cannot agree on granting civil rights, they are human rights and should be protected.