Take government out of marriage to ensure equality

by Mike Heral

The Washington Post’s Nov. 22 issue includes an article about Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire Army National Guard. Morgan has terminal cancer. Unfortunately, Morgan’s wife, Karen, will be denied survivor benefits almost every spouse is entitled to when their military spouse dies. This is because the U.S. doesn’t recognize Charlie and Karen’s union even though New Hampshire does. You see, Charlie and Karen are lesbians. Federal benefits, such as the survivor benefit plan, are granted only to marriages deemed legal by the Defense of Marriage Act, which narrowly defines marriage as the union between a man and a woman. Therefore, Charlie’s wife and their 5-year-old daughter will be denied monthly financial compensation when she dies.

Sadly, same-sex marriages are denied more than just survivors’ insurance. Because of the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause, DOMA supersedes any state laws legalizing same-sex marriage. This means federal law trumps state law whenever they conflict. Therefore, same-sex marriages in the U.S. military result in denial of government-sponsored health care. Additionally, military heroes can’t obtain identification cards for their same-sex spouses. This prevents civilians from using military shopping privileges whenever their military spouses aren’t present.

It’s a tragedy when individuals such as Charlie face their final days without the peace of mind from knowing their loved ones’ futures are secure. It’s a travesty knowing Karen and her daughter will not be able to reap the benefits of Charlie’s service because of capriciousness backed by the weight of law. Ending the process of arbitrarily awarding benefits starts with rescinding DOMA and ends with cessation of government-sanctioned marriage.

Opponents of government- sanctioned marriage allege it’s a violation of church and state for the U.S. to sanction a quasi-religious institution. They’re mistaken on two counts. First, marriage’s origins are muddled enough to make it impossible to determine whether marriage or modern religions came first. Second, the U.S. has been in lockstep with religion since the first rhetorical embers sparked the American Revolutionary War. The Declaration of Independence invokes a higher power at least three times, our money is imprinted with, “In God We Trust” and Christmas— a Christian observance—is a federal holiday. Eliminating marriage solely based on the possibility that it’s a religious tradition is moot.

Marriage, though, has become a word too emotionally charged. Its mere mention causes otherwise-sane people to behave irrationally. Case in point is the recently concluded Illinois state representative contest between Democratic incumbent Rita Mayfield and Republican challenger Jackie Burleson. The Daily Herald reported Burleson said his heterosexual marriage “actually means something,” indirectly implying same-sex unions aren’t worthy of the same honor. Mayfield similarly belittled same-sex marriages saying, “I’m still not clear on why they feel the need for marriage when you’ve got civil unions. One of the answers I was told is that civil unions didn’t give them enough. How much more do you want?”

The two politicians’ bias toward “marriage” provides compelling reasoning for striking the word from federal law. Ideally, it shouldn’t matter if the U.S. moved to grant marriages to all who apply, but proponents of DOMA are too entrenched. The struggle would be too protracted, forcing innocents such as Karen to live without essential benefits. Therefore, the better move is to take the easier path: make domestic partnerships the sole gateway for accessing benefits. With one stroke of a pen, President Barack Obama can remove the government from the marriage business. Domestic partnerships would serve as the conduit for accessing family benefits. Marriage still can exist with such a law, but only as a private religious practice. In doing so, our government would provide the only acceptable answer to Mayfield’s question: Americans, regardless of sexual persuasion, deserve equal benefits.

Discrimination is defined as unjust treatment of different categories of people. Denying same-sex partners the right to the same benefits straight partners receive is discrimination. The 2nd U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit agrees, issuing a ruling in October stating DOMA violates the Constitution’s

Equal Protection Clause. Unfortunately, the ruling doesn’t stop DOMA. Unless our legislative branch invalidates DOMA, its ultimate legality will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. No one knows when those hearings will begin.

A free society must refrain from all forms of discrimination, otherwise it is a free society in name only. Today, 10 states plus the District of Columbia at least partially recognize same- sex unions. This still leaves 40 states practicing discrimination. We should not wait for those 40 states to evolve. We should force the issue at the federal level right now.

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