Brown: Marriage needs defending from anti-gay groups

Phil Brown

Last year many advancements were made in providing equality to the LGBT community across the country. More and more states now recognize marriages, regardless of the couples’ sex, and a federal ban on non-heterosexual marriages was lifted by the Supreme Court.

That controversial law, the Defense of Marriage Act, was overturned on grounds that it violated the equal liberty provided for by the Fifth Amendment to our Constitution.

Essentially, the ruling says that the federal government cannot define marriage as being only between a man and woman. States are now free to determine if same-sex couples qualify for marriage, with federal benefits being afforded to couples that receive a valid state marriage license. 

Currently, sixteen states (as well as the District of Columbia) allow gay couples to marry. However, as many visitors of Las Vegas know, marriages can be valid even when performed in a state in which neither married party resides. This allows for couples from states that do not provide for same-sex marriages to travel to certain states, sign a marriage license and thus receive federal marriage benefits without the hassle of actually moving across state lines.

In other words, a same-sex couple from Missouri, where gay marriage is banned, could travel to Iowa, where gay marriage is legal, take a trip to a courthouse with a legal witness, pay a thirty-five dollar fee, sign their names and be back home before sundown. After all of this, the couple would not be seen as married in the eyes of Missouri, but would be for federal purposes. 

Predictably, this has upset a number of people. United States Representative Randy WeberCQ (R-TX) has proposed a bill along with a host of other Republican representatives that would fix this obvious injustice. The State Marriage Defense Act would limit federal recognition — and the benefits that accompany it — to marriages that are legally recognized in the home state of those seeking marriage benefits.

This would mean the couple who traveled to Iowa to take advantage of our generous notions of “equality” and “non-discrimination” would be put back in their rightful, secondary place.

In a twisted way, this makes sense. One of the reasons the Supreme Court decided the DOMA case the way they did is that it allows states to determine their own policy on the issue. The Supreme Court, in reviewing DOMA and California’s Proposition 8, which was a public referendum to ban gay marriages, could very well have issued a more sweeping decision that simply found statewide bans on same-sex marriages to be totally unconstitutional. Instead the Court refrained, bowing to states’ powers advocates.

Unfortunately for the proponents of the State Marriage Defense Act, restricting access to federal marriage benefits based on the sex of someone’s partner still makes absolutely no sense.

Setting aside the question of whether or not any level of government should be able to discriminate based upon sexual orientation, the new proposal from Rep. Weber should be tossed aside on its own lackluster merits.

The bill would not merely “affirm the authority of states to define and regulate marriage,” as a Weber press release puts it, but instead would take state power beyond the scope of reason. A state, for the purposes of its laws, has the authority to ban marriages between individuals of the same sex. It should not have the authority to effectively ban such a marriage when it completely lacks a reasonable interest.

After all, the marriages that would be affected are already not recognized by states which do not allow same-sex matrimonials. The only government-to-person relationship being altered is that between the federal government and two consenting adults who took an out-of-state trip.

Individuals like Rep. Weber and groups such as the National Organization for Marriage and Heritage Action say they are trying to defend marriage reaffirm state powers. These particular powers, as far as the states themselves are concerned, are already respected. What these groups are really seeking is to control not only the laws, but the lives of everyone living in the states which ban gay marriage. 

To anyone familiar with the political rhetoric of today’s America, this is a stunning request from those on the right.

Still, it must be admitted that anti-gay marriage groups did get one thing right. It is constantly asserted that the institution of marriage needs to be defended, and it certainly does. It needs to be defended from those who would steal it away from others as a child would steal a favorite toy from its sibling. It needs to be defended from those like Rep. Weber.