Millions of people all over the country exhaled in a sigh of relief earlier this week as news of the United States Supreme Court striking down The Defense of Marriage Act was delivered. Those people cried, and embraced one another, and danced in the streets, in celebration of another small victory in a larger movement for equality of all United States citizens.
Photo from CNN
Before it was ruled unconstitutional, DOMA, which was enacted in 1996, allowed states to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states. This often equated to a barring of privileges, benefits, and basic rights for couples who were married in a state where same-sex marriage was legalized. Rights that are often taken for granted by heterosexual couples such as the ability to visit your spouse in the hospital, or being able to file joint tax returns, were not granted to same-sex couples, regardless of their legitimate union sanctioned by whichever state they were married in.
Gay rights activists, allies, same-sex couples, and pro marriage equality politicians have long urged the public to see the unconstitutionality in The Defense of Marriage Act. Because of the rights that DOMA denies same-sex couples, the federal law is in direct violation of the Fifth Amendment, in that it denies life, liberty, and property, as well as due process for same-sex couples.
The United States Supreme Court ruled DOMA unconstitutional by a 5-4 vote. Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the majority opinion, which appears to be just as influenced by the constitution as by contemporary ethics. Kennedy explained how DOMA not only denies due process to same-sex couples, but also “humiliates the children of same-sex spouses,” and makes same-sex married couples feel “less worthy” as citizens deserving of equal rights.
DOMA being overturned by the Supreme Court is a momentous marker of progress in the gay rights movement. Though there is still much work that needs to be done to achieve equal rights for all people in this country regardless of race, class, gender, and sexual orientation, this ruling sparks hope for many advocates of universal equality for all.
For more quotations from Justice Kennedy’s delivery of the majority decision, take a look at this article.