Equality in Marriage


Illustration by Colin Zelinski.

The Obama administration released a 67-page brief Friday arguing that the federal Defense of Marriage Act “violates the fundamental constitutional guarantee of equal protection. The law denies to tens of thousands of same-sex couples who are legally married under state law an array of important federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex couples.” 

Section 3 of DOMA, which is debated in the brief, “defines ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’ for all purposes under federal law to exclude marriage between persons of the same sex, regardless of whether a marriage is recognized under state law.”

In the brief released by the Obama administration, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli said “moral opposition to homosexuality, though it may reflect deeply held personal views, is not a legitimate policy objective that can justify unequal treatment of gay and lesbian people.” 

The brief made headlines the same week that a poll released by the Center for American Progress and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders suggested 59 percent of registered voters oppose section 3 of DOMA. The poll also found that 62 percent of American voters think DOMA discriminates.

In a separate poll, the Respect for Marriage Coalition – “a partnership of more than 80 civil rights, faith, health, labor, business, legal, LGBT, student and women’s organizations working together to end the DOMA and grow support for the freedom to marry,” according to the coalition’s website — released findings from the “first public opinion poll of 2013 on marriage rights for gay and lesbian couples.” 

The results suggest “growing bipartisan majority of registered voters believe that the right for Americans to marry the person they love is both a Constitutional right and a freedom that all Americans — including gays and lesbians — should enjoy.”  The poll found 75 percent of American voters believe that marriage equality is a constitutional right, up 4 points since 2011. 

Regardless of the personal opinion's of the participants of the survey on the issue, the poll found 83 percent of Americans believe same-sex marriage “will be legal nationally in the next five to ten years” and 77 percent believe it will be legal in the next couple of years. This signifies a “significant increase since 2011 when 72 percent believed it would happen in the next five to 10 years, and 67 percent believed it would happen in the next couple of years.”

Voters on both sides of the issue do not believe that allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry will have much of an impact on their personal lives. According to the Respect for Marriage Coalition poll, 62 percent believe legalizing same-sex marriage will either have not much impact or absolutely no impact at all, and the vast majority of these voters think it will have absolutely no impact on their lives.

Yet those who are denied legal marriage and its federal benefits are vastly impacted by DOMA. The Obama administration brief notes this can have a negative impact on children because “the denial of federal benefits otherwise accorded to married individuals undermines the efforts of same-sex couples to raise children, hindering rather than advancing any interest in promoting child welfare.”

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to hear arguments next month on DOMA, the evolving attitudes regarding marriage equality in America suggest now more than ever, people across the board recognize that regardless of their own personal beliefs, discrimination based on sexual orientation is unconstitutional. 

Published on February 27, 2013 as "Marriage act deemed unconstitutional".