The Defense of Marriage Act and the long quest for equality

By JACK BARTHOLET | September 13, 2012

Throughout our nation’s lifetime, a contentious battle has unfurled every four years between the two major candidates for President of the United States. To say that this election is no different, however, would be a grave fallacy; this contest features an element never before seen during America’s brief electoral history. For the first time, one of the major parties– in this case, the Democratic Party– has voted to support same-sex marriage in its official party platform.

The issue of marriage equality is not new to the political arena. It has been debated and legislated for many years, culminating in the momentous vote in 1996 for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines “marriage” as a union between one man and one woman, allows individual states to ignore marriage certificates for same-sex spouses from other states and allows same-sex spouses to be denied federal benefits such as social security payments.

Yet this is the first election in which the two candidates support fundamentally different definitions of marriage, both personally and legislatively.

Last week, I came across a video circulating online in which Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney meets a gay Vietnam War veteran on the campaign trail. During the encounter, Governor Romney expresses (as he has many times) his opposition to same-sex marriages, and when asked by the veteran specifically about the newest state in the Union to legally recognize same-sex marriages, he responds, “I support the repeal of the New Hampshire law. I believe marriage is between a man and a woman. That’s my view.”

This view differs from that of President Obama, who ordered the Department of Justice to stop defending certain provisions of DOMA in federal courts and who affirmed a change in his beliefs in May when he announced his support for same-sex marriage.

DOMA is much more than a controversial piece of legislation. To me, it is a test of the loyalty of our nation to its founding principles. It’s thus wholly unacceptable that in this day and age, the former Governor of Massachusetts supports an ideology so axiomatically opposed to the ideals and founding principles of this nation. It’s wholly unacceptable that one of the two major candidates for President of the United States opposes very basic civil rights.

When will our nation fully embrace the words so profoundly ingrained in our national identity and found plainly in our very Declaration of Independence that, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness?” When will the elected officials, representatives and justices of this nation fully embrace the enumerated obligation of the citizenry to “institute new government” when the present one becomes unresponsive to the demands of the people?

It is time that we finally reject the theory that our nation can legally discriminate against certain subsections of its electorate.

When the Emancipation Proclamation was signed and the Thirteenth Amendment was passed, our nation thought that it had finally solidified equality for all. But then came Jim Crow and a new age of segregation. So we ratified the Fourteenth Amendment and thought that we had achieved equality yet again. But then the Supreme Court affirmed the doctrine of “separate but equal” and the fight continued. Brown v. Board of Education was supposed to be the final straw. But it wasn’t. It took federal troops in Little Rock, constitutional amendments and civil rights legislation, court decisions and executive actions. The fight for equality is long and still ongoing.

This is a nation that has fought for equality throughout its entire independence. It is time we stand firm and say once and for all, “enough is enough.” To simply say that two people who love each other cannot be married because of their genders is no less opposed to the ideals of freedom, liberty and equality that our nation was founded upon than to say that two children cannot drink from the same water fountain because of the colors of their skin.

It goes against everything that our nation has fought for, from the Revolutionary struggle for equality, life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, to the battle for “equal protection of the laws” in post-Civil War America. If we truly want to remain the “Land of the Free,” then we must solidify “liberty and justice for all” – for heterosexuals and homosexuals alike.

In the twenty-first century, there is no place for discrimination in our country. There is no place for DOMA in our laws, nor a place for Governor Romney in the White House.

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