The American president knows he (or she) has a monumental duty to protect the country, but sometimes forgets about another responsibility: to protect the values of our Constitution.
As far as I’m concerned, Bill Clinton fell asleep at the wheel by allowing the passage of the Defense of Marriage Act (DoMA) and the Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy to effectively set the gay rights movement – a civil rights movement – back decades.
The main effect of DoMA is to ensure that no state is obligated to recognize a same-sex marriage, even if it may be recognized in another state. Given the controversial nature of this social debate, it may come off as a pragmatic compromise, but underneath its false veneer is an act that not only legitimizes unconstitutional behavior but also facilitates it.
The United States Constitution clearly states, “Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State.” This means that while states do not have to change their own policies to match another’s, they must recognize the merit of another state’s decision.
Therefore, if two people of the same sex fell in love and decided to get legally married in California, and then moved to a state that denied their legal status and thus denied them the benefits of being married (spousal and survivor Social Security benefits, lower insurance rates, inheritance, etc.), they could rightfully sue the state for violating the Full Faith and Credit clause of the Constitution. Since the unequivocal striking-down of any sodomy laws in the United States, all we can deduce is that on a federal level – a level that has always and must always be free of “moral” dictation by a certain religion – that gay Americans are a perfectly normal, law-abiding set of citizens being denied rights that other American citizens possess.
They should sue, and they should win.
But this is where DoMA rears its ugly head. The Republican Congress of 1996 decided that it had the authority to pass a law that supersedes part of the Constitution.
“But Jake,” you might say, “don’t you need to pass a constitutional amendment before you alter the effect of one of its clauses?” Yeah, I thought so too . turns out the only way DoMA can be taken down is federally, through the Supreme Court. And, to be honest, I don’t know if this Supreme Court (with the “best buddies” bloc of Thomas, Scalia, Roberts and Alito, and of which seven of nine justices were nominated by Republican presidents) would side with the Constitution or with conservatives.
The Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell policy is rife with different issues and concerns, but is still fundamentally un-American because it promotes an offensive brand of inequality. First of all, I do not believe anyone in their right mind can legitimately question another’s love for their country simply because they happen to have been born gay. Bullets are blind, and so are the virtues of duty, honor and courage. They do not see straight or gay, they see commitment. So the question “Why shouldn’t gay U.S. citizens be able to serve in the U.S. military?” might be better framed, “Why shouldn’t U.S. citizens be able to serve in the U.S. military?” Perhaps the most relevant concern is whether allowing open gays to serve in the military will threaten unit cohesion. For this issue, we can look to other places in the world that allow openly gay soldiers. In Britain, for example, openly gay Britons have been welcomed in the military since 2000, and since then, relatively none of the predicted discord, bullying or loss of effectiveness has occurred.
On a larger scale, the prospect of expanding gay rights (allowing same-sex marriage and openly gay soldiers) is difficult for many Americans to swallow. The truth is there is no valid argument against gay marriage that is not simply a more socially acceptable form of bigotry or religion-based persecution, when in reality, not even everyone within a particular religion believes in the denial of governmental equality for same-sex partners.
Much like the president, it is the duty of this nation’s judiciary to protect the rights of law-abiding minorities (just like it did for black citizens), even if their lifestyle is unpopular to the majority. With a crucial victory in California, it’s important to not let up.
To any of my friends who happen to be gay: accept nothing less than equal rights. I know straight people have not always been the best allies in the fight for your equality, but as we learn about the injustice and unconstitutionality of the denial of your rights, more and more of us are willing to help . keep fighting, we’ll have your back.
Jake McGowan is a political science sophomore and a liberal columnist for the Mustang Daily.