Marriage Equality Expands Freedom and Liberty

It is quite ironic that those who cry the loudest about freedom and liberty are the very same people whoCRSIP logo want to impose their beliefs on others.  Last week the Supreme Court rightly declared a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and refused to review the decision of a federal court that nullified California’s Proposition 8 on the grounds that it violated the United States Constitution.  Conservatives unceasingly lambast President Obama and Democrats for plotting to take away their freedom and liberty, yet they are eager to use the government to suppress voting rights and deny people the freedom to choose who they wish to marry.

The Defense of Marriage Act (Public Law 104-199) was passed by the Republican-controlled House of Representatives on July 12, 1996 (342-67) six days before it passed the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PWORA) that reformed the welfare system.  Busy, busy, busy.  DOMA was passed by the Senate on September 10, 1996 (85-14) and signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 26, 1996.  Section 3, struck down by the Supreme Court, denied federal benefits to same-gender spouses.

Proposition 8, the “Eliminate Right of Same-Sex Couples to Marry” initiative, passed narrowly in California in November 2008 by a margin of 52-48 percent.  In February 2012, a three-judge panel of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled 2-1 that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.  Thus setting the stage for last week’s Supreme Court rulings.

In its decision on DOMA, the Supreme Court voted along ideological lines with right-leaning swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the liberal wing of the Court—Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Elena Kagan, Sonia Sotomayor, and Stephen G. Breyer—in a 5-4 decision that declared that in states where same-gender marriage is legal, denying these couples federal benefits was tantamount to relegating them to second-tier citizenship.  The majority ruled these couples must receive the same federal tax, health benefits, Social Security and other benefits afforded to heterosexual couples.  The dissenting justices were Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel A. Alito.


In a separate 5-4 decision, Chief Justice John Roberts joined Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Antonin Scalia in declining to rule on a federal court’s decision to overturn Proposition 8 that outlawed same-gender marriages in the state of California stating that the backers of the ballot initiative had no standing to bring the case before the Supreme since state officials had declined to do so.  Interestingly, Justice Sonia Sotomayor found herself in the company of fellow Justices Anthony Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito in dissenting.  She obviously felt the Court should have ruled on the case.

When the dust cleared, it was a decisive victory for gay Americans and further evidence that government has no business legislating morality.  Proposition 8 exit polling revealed religion as the driver of much of the opposition to same-gender marriage.  People of faith see marriage as a sacred commitment between a man and a woman sanctioned by God.  They have every right to their beliefs.  They see their opposition to same-gender marriage as a moral obligation.  No problem.  However the line is crossed when governmental policies impose religious beliefs on everyone.  The Supreme Court’s decision was not complete and we will see the battleground move to other states.  However, it was clearly a victory for fairness and justice.  And, this Court has not always been on the right side of freedom and liberty.

Written by Dr. Charles E. Lewis Jr.
President of The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy

Twitter: @CharlesELewisJr.

Dr. Charles E. Lewis, Jr. is President of The Congressional Research Institute for Social Work and Policy. He has served as deputy chief of staff and communications director for former Congressman Edolphus “Ed” Towns and was the staff coordinator for the Congressional Social Work Caucus. He was a full-time faculty member at Howard University School of Social Work prior to joining Rep. Towns’ staff and now is an adjunct associate professor. As staff coordinator for the Social Work Caucus, Dr. Lewis helped to plan and to coordinate numerous briefings and events on the Hill and in the 10th Congressional District in Brooklyn, New York.

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