DOMA’s Unconstitutional, Obama Says

The new state of marriage equality. By Duncan Busser

UPDATE: Maryland votes to approve gay marriage bill (Feb. 25)

Yesterday was a game changer for marriage equality advocates in this country. When the Obama administration announced that it will no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in federal court, calling it unconstitutional, the entire same-sex marriage landscape shifted. And even though DOMA remains in place – with a provision in section three that says marriage is defined between one man and one woman – the fact that it can no longer be used to roadblock everything from benefits for gay couples to even statewide initiatives to pass marriage equality and civil union legislation, means the ruling amounts to a huge victory for LGBT people in America.

When he made the announcement yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder cited a “documented history of discrimination” against LGBT people, saying that DOMA – which was established in 1996 – is unconstitutional.

The groundbreaking announcement wasn’t the only progress marriage equality advocates made this week. In California, attorneys asked that the court-imposed stay on Prop 8 – which sought to ban same-sex marriage – also be lifted. And Governor Abercrombie of Hawaii (no relation to the clothing people) signed a very strong same-sex civil unions into law today.

Here’s what Rachel Maddow had to say about the DOMA news (with insights from UPenn law professor Tobias Wolff):

The good news is even more states are also making progress:

Colorado’s State Senator Pat Steadman recently introduced a civil union bill – on Valentine’s Day, no less. And as we reported earlier this week on G Philly, nearby Delaware is also debating a civil union bill, which is great news since New Jersey already has one in place and Rep. Mark Cohen wants the same for Pennsylvania come 2012.

Also up for debate, both Rhode Island and Maryland are pushing for full marriage equality. In most cases, civil unions – by definition – are only applicable to gays and lesbians (not unmarried heterosexuals) and as a separate legal structure. So basically every change to every marriage or civil union law is considered separately for gays and our hetero friends.

Perhaps what’s most disturbing (depending on your tastes) is that more states in this country let you marry your first cousin than your longtime same-sex partner. And every state in the Union lets you marry a perfect stranger (we’re looking at you, Britney Spears), and not a single state requires any proof that the couple is in love. All that is required in Pennsylvania is $80 and a valid state-issued ID that proves that one member is legally male and the other is legally female. Oh, and if one of the applicants is under 15 (yes, 15), the marriage needs to be authorized by the courts. But other than that, pretty much any male and any female can marry. This, my friends, is what’s considered “traditional marriage.”

But plenty of people are taking it to task. Here’s what’s happening with marriage equality around the country – and around the world right now:

Marriage is considered a gender-neutral government transaction in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont and New Hampshire, as well as the District of Columbia and the American Indian sovereign nation of Coquille off the coast of Washington.

Civil unions and domestic partnerships are offered in lieu of marriage on the West Coast and in Nevada, where same-sex marriage is forbidden by statute (Washington) or constitutional amendment (Oregon, California and Nevada).

Maine offers domestic partnership, but a 1997 statute specifically states that same-sex couples may not marry.

Through various legislations, many gays in New Jersey, Wisconsin, Hawaii, California and now Illinois, can inherit and transfer property, as well as make medical decisions for their partners.

Eventually, we hope, Americans will have the same legal freedoms afforded to gays and lesbians around the world, including the largely Catholic nations of Portugal, Spain, Belgium and Argentina, as well as Canada, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, South Africa and Sweden.

Parts of Mexico City perform same-sex marriages, which are also recognized in Israel and Japan. Civil unions, like the ones currently available in 10 U.S. states, are celebrated in 19 other countries. It’s progress. But until all 50 of our states also enjoy this human right, we will have politicians debate the legitimacy of our love at tax payer expense, instead of ending the $323,000,000-per-day war in Afghanistan or finding a way to keep our schools from closing around us.

Duncan Busser is a bon vivant living in Philadelphia who spends his days looking for a “real job.” He lives in the Logan Square section of the city helping his partner raise his two-year-old son.