Tonight, the Washington Post reports the good news that a significant hurdle to the legalization of same-sex marriage has been cleared in Washington, D.C. The district’s Board of Elections and Ethics has ruled that it would be illegal for a ballot proposition to be held that could result in the homosexual residents being deprived of legal rights. It’s clear law in Washington D.C. that ballot initiatives cannot be used to establish discrimination against a minority by the majority of voters.
Anti-equality groups had been rallying behind the idea of a ballot proposition as a way to block a district council vote later this year on legalizing same-sex marriage. It is anticipated that the vote will be in favor of legalization. Even before then, a court ruling will go into effect, requiring district government to honor the legitimacy of same-sex marriages performed in the growing parts of the United States where such marriages are legal.
Sadly, such cases are not set to go into effect in other states any time soon. The result is a patchwork of free marriage states and restricted marriage states, which makes it possible for a married couple to set out from their home, cross a state border and suddenly not be married any more, continue across the country and become married again, only to lose their married status again before reaching the opposite coast. Some people say this approach protects the integrity of marriage. I say that’s hogwash. It’s an irrational, unconstitutional and just plain unworkable system that ought to remind literate Americans of the crazy states’ rights arrangement that created a patchwork United States before the Civil War.
The Constitution of the United States is clear on issues like this. No inequality under the law is permitted. The Constitution applies everywhere within US borders, not just within states that choose to pay attention to the Constitution’s requirements.
Yet, Barack Obama continues to insist, like Dick Cheney, that states should retain the power to deny citizens’ rights. That’s why Obama sent his lawyers to court last week to demand that lawsuits against the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act be stopped. Obama’s team engaged in ridiculous arguments, such as the claim that gays and lesbians don’t suffer discrimination, because they have equal rights to marry people of the opposite sex. That’s like saying that slaves weren’t discriminated against, because they were given the same right to work as everyone else.
It’s telling that arguments against legal recognition of same-sex marriage have devolved into such absurd, desperate contortions. It’s delusional for anyone to claim anymore that marriage is a state that can only exist between a man and a woman. Several states now have laws providing for same-sex marriage. Secular and religious traditions of same-sex marriage have been in place for at least a generation. Even Joseph Bruno, the Republican former majority leader of the New York State Senate, has changed his mind on this issue. Yesterday, Bruno declared,
“This is America and we have unalienable rights. Let everyone decide how to pursue their own happiness. I understand that this issue stirs great passion in many people … However, my instincts tell me that homosexuals who wish to enter into the union of marriage are just like the rest of us and they ought to be free to enter into it.”
Instead of continuing to stand with extremist elements to the right of reasonable Republicans like Bruno, Barack Obama ought to listen to the wisdom of the Washington D.C. Board of Elections and Ethics. Legislation that seeks to deny American citizens of equal protection under the law, whether it’s a state-level ballot proposition or a federal law like the Defense of Marriage Act, is illegitimate.
The consensus in favor of recognizing same-sex marriages is rapidly expanding. President Obama is on the wrong side of a significant historical shift, and the time is running out for him to make a plausible self-correction, and show respect for the mandate of equality and the authority of the Constitution.