Thursday, May 12, 2011

DOMA- What are We Really Defending?

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), according to it's title, is a federal law passed to defend the institution of marriage in the United States, an institution that certainly seems to need, if not defense, at least a whole lot of help. The problem is, I think, what exactly is DOMA defending marriage against? Because it is hard to see how this legislation helps with the high rate of divorce for instance, or the pressures of modern life that seem to take such a toll on this vital institution.

Instead, the truth is that far from being a defense of arriage, DOMA is an attack on it, both as a civil and a religious institution. It's an attack on the integrity of our constitution and on the basic civil rights of individual Americans as well. DOMA is an attack on marriage because it codifies this diverse and important institution in a manner that fails to recognize that diversity and excludes people who wish to, by their participation in that institution, strengthen and enlarge it. By preventing GLBT people from joining in civil marriage and with that, from enjoying the benefits and taking on the myriad of formal (and informal) civil and social responsibilities inherent in the institution, we impoverish marriage, lessen the number of individuals who get married and, (as they are forced to form alternative relationships and partnerships), we highlight those alternatives as viable and reasonable for all Americans. Marriage as an institution declines.

DOMA is also an attack on our constitutional principles in several basic and very important ways. First, while there are federal tax benefits for married people, in general, the regulation of the institution is clearly understood as a state, not a federal function. DOMA, by refusing to recognize same-sex marriages in those states that have legalized them, is usurping the sovereignty of the states and doing so in the second way it undermines our constitution, by undermining the constitutional principle of equality before the law. As our long (and continuing) battle for civil rights for people of color has established firmly, to imbue an institution with "special" rights and responsibilities and then define it so as to deny access to that institution to a whole class of citizens violates that principle. To use religious understandings of marriage to do so, is even more of a constitutional problem in a nation in which we have a separation of church and state.

That leads to another issue with DOMA, because the religious understanding of marriage as between one man and one woman is A religious understanding, not THE religious understanding and so, not only does DOMA deny GLBT couples from being married civilly, it also invalidates religious marriages for GLBT persons married in traditions (like my own) that understand marriage religiously in ways that do not exclude LGBT people. DOMA, by design as well as effect, codifies one, religiously based understanding of marriage at the expense of millions of our citizens, at the expense of marriage itself, at the expense of state sovereignty, and at the expense of those religious and secular understandings that accept and endorse GLBT marriage. That's an attack on all of us and its time to repeal DOMA