Saturday, December 08, 2012

Gay Marriage: The Next Civil Rights Landmark

As a recent Gallup survey revealed (see my previous post), opposition to same sex marriage stems almost entirely from the religious beliefs of those I refer to as the Christofascists - those who seek to force all Americans to live according to their own fear and hate based religious beliefs.  Gays are among their favored targets for hate and stigma and nothing better stigmatizes gays than to bar legal recognition of our relationships to the fullest extent possible.  Such was certainly the goal of The Family Foundation and its allied hate groups here in Virginia in 2006 when the toxic Marshall-Newman Amendment was passed after a particularly dishonest marketing campaign spearheaded by the godly Christian crowd.  The message to gays: you are less than nothing and no one in Virginia can legally recognize your relationships.   The message to the larger society: gays deserve discrimination and abuse because even the civil laws treat them as less than full citizens.  Now, with the U. S. Supreme Court to take up two gay marriage cases, the modern day equivalents of the old Jim Crow laws and anti-miscegenation laws need to be thrown on the trash heap of history.  The main editorial in the New York Times makes the case for striking down DOMA and bans on same sex marriage.  Here are excerpts:

Fifty-eight years after it banned discrimination in public education, the Supreme Court has set the stage for the defining civil rights decision of this era — agreeing to hear two cases challenging laws that define marriage to exclude couples of the same sex. To us, and a growing number of Americans, the right course seems clear: that the justices continue the march toward real equality. 

The Supreme Court could leave California’s same-sex marriage ban in place, planting the court on the wrong side of justice and equality. Or, in the absence of a five-vote majority to establish a nationwide constitutional right to same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court could affirm the narrower approach of the Ninth Circuit panel, which was confined to California.  The appellate panel reasoned that Proposition 8, as the voter initiative was known, was unconstitutional because it stripped gays, lesbians and bisexuals of the right to marry declared by the State Supreme Court. Thus it harmed “the status and dignity of the members of a disfavored class.”

Because the Defense of Marriage Act did not allow the Internal Revenue Service to treat Ms. Windsor as a surviving spouse when Ms. Spyer died in 2009, she was required to pay some $360,000 in federal estate taxes from which opposite-sex spouses are exempt. The United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in Manhattan, sensibly said that violated the Constitution’s promise of equal protection. The ruling against the Defense of Marriage Act, the second by a federal appeals court, said laws treating same-sex couples differently deserve heightened judicial scrutiny, like other laws that single out minorities long subjected to discrimination. 

These profound legal tests have reached the nation’s highest court at a remarkable moment. There has been a string of persuasive lower federal court rulings against the Defense of Marriage Act and the denial of gay people’s freedom to marry. 

A month ago, voters in Maine, Maryland and Washington State became the first to approve same-sex marriage at the ballot box rather than through courts or legislatures. Voters in Minnesota rejected a ballot measure that would have enshrined the state’s ban on same-sex marriage in the State Constitution. 

Public opinion is shifting on this issue as more people recognize the inherent wrong in a last bastion of official discrimination. The most important hearts and minds to be won at this point belong to the nine justices.

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