By Maurine Proctor
In a recent decision, a U.S. District Court judge in Boston ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional stating that it interfered with a state’s right to define marriage. What we have here is a judge trying to play legislator. DOMA was passed in 1996 by an overwhelming majority of seventy-four percent in the House and eighty-five percent in the Senate. It was signed into law under President Clinton. DOMA defines marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife”.
Congress laid out four reasons for the legislation: promoting “responsible procreation and child-bearing,” defending “traditional heterosexual marriage,” supporting “traditional notions of morality” and guarding limited federal resources. As a consequence, the federal government does not recognize marriages of any other kind. The law was put into place when it was feared that Hawaii might pass a bill legalizing same-sex marriages. Fortunately, Hawaii never carried through on the measure, but currently there are five states and the District of Columbia that recognize same-sex marriages.
Although the couples who sued in this case are considered “married” in the eyes of their state, they complained that DOMA kept them from getting federal benefits like Social Security survivor payments or joint tax filings. Judge Joseph Tauro agreed with the gay couples by stating, “it is only irrational prejudice that motivates” [DOMA]. He ruled that the federal government has no constitutional right to overrule the state sanctioned marriages by limiting what perks the plaintiffs could benefit from. But there has been strong precedent for the federal government ruling on a national definition of marriage ever since the 19th century when it banned polygamy.
It’s no accident that the judge ruled this way because Elena Kagan, who is President Obama’s Solicitor General, intentionally sabotaged the defense of the law. It’s no secret that her boss, President Obama, abhors DOMA. He has called for its appeal ever since his campaign for President. But Ms Kagan has the ironic responsibility of defending a law that Obama thinks is unconstitutional. Instead of trying to win the case, she intentionally undermined it by not making the strongest arguments in favor of DOMA. She completely omitted the argument that procreation is the main reason for protecting man-woman marriage.
The next step in the case is for the federal government to decide whether it will appeal Judge Tauro’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. But this appeal is in real question because of President Obama’s distaste for the law.
This ruling only applies to Massachusetts, but it will have deep and lasting consequences across the country if this ruling stands or loses on appeal. Attorneys general who oppose DOMA may sue in their state to have it struck down. The Obama administration must defend the law of the land with the same enthusiasm as a law they are in favor of. Without this impartiality to the law, we would live in a lawless regime.
The Moral Liberal Contributing Editor, Maurine Proctor, is Co-Founder and Editor in Chief of Meridian Magazine, and President of Family Leader Foundation. She has worked for the Chicago Sun-Times, written and edited several books, is an award-winning documentary writer and producer, and a Harvard graduate.