Gay marriage and the DOMA

According to the 2000 census, Minneapolis was ranked third in the nation for the concentration of same-sex couples who live together. This ranking displays the acceptance of homosexuals in the community; however, same-sex couples still cannot legalize their unions in Minnesota and many other states. As other countries continue to legalize homosexual marriages, the United States needs to catch up and grant equal rights and benefits to its citizens regardless of their sexual orientation.

Brian Wiedenmeier, the co-chairman of the Queer Student Cultural Center at the University, sums up the need for same sex marriage: “It’s an outrage that gay and lesbian citizens cannot marry or partner. They cannot take advantage of things that heterosexual married couples can, such as tax breaks, estates or wills and married status within adoption proceedings.”

Many problems can arise for homosexual couples who cannot receive the same benefits as heterosexual married couples. For example, if a homosexual partner dies, the surviving half of the couple will have a more difficult time receiving inheritance because he or she is not considered a spouse. Also, same-sex couples cannot take advantage of the married status for a variety of legal proceedings, making situations like adoption and home ownership increasingly difficult. The practice of denying homosexuals the same rights as heterosexuals is clearly discriminatory.

Fortunately for some, progress on this issue has been made in a few states. Currently, homosexual civil unions – marriages with a different name – are legal in Vermont and Hawaii. This was a bold and progressive move on each state’s part. Many of the legislators in Vermont who voted for the measure lost their seats this past November, and the state is still divided among its constituents on the issue.

It is unfair to force gay and lesbian couples to take special trips to Vermont or Hawaii so they can recognize and solidify their partnerships. The Full Faith and Credit Clause in our Constitution says that every state must show regard for other states’ laws and official proceedings. Thus, by traveling to Vermont or Hawaii to marry, same-sex couples could circumvent other states’ laws and force them to recognize their union.

However, many homosexual couples face a major stumbling block while trying to get their union recognized in their home state: the Defense of Marriage Act, also known as DOMA, was passed by congress in 1996. Many states have adopted this act, including Minnesota. The act gives states the right to ignore same-sex marriages that occurred outside their state lines. Essentially, the DOMA was created to protect the “sanctity” of heterosexual marriage. Yet trying to protect the sanctity of heterosexual marriages seems futile considering that they have a divorce rate of nearly 50 percent.

The main reason for the DOMA, and for many states refusing to legalize same-sex marriages is that legislators want to appease the moral and religious convictions of some constituents. However, legalized civil unions in Vermont and Hawaii are not asking religious groups to recognize them, just the government. Homosexuals want to gain the same spousal rights that their heterosexual counterparts enjoy, not impose specific moral beliefs on the rest of the country.

Also, many international communities are making significant strides toward acceptance and equality for homosexuals. The Netherlands has legalized same-sex marriage, and Germany enacted a new law stating that same-sex couples can register their unions with government offices, receive inheritance and health insurance reserved for a spouse and remanding that a court order be necessary for a divorce. All of these rights were formerly reserved for heterosexual married couples.

Germany and the Netherlands have taken a major step for gay and lesbian rights and against the political discrimination of homosexuals. The U.S. should follow the lead of these foreign countries and recognize that homosexuals deserve equal treatment under the law. In addition to spousal benefits, gay and lesbian couples deserve to have their loving partnerships legally recognized like those of heterosexuals.