As early as tomorrow morning but most assuredly before the month is over, the U.S. Supreme Court will issue a ruling on the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines, for federal purposes, marriage as an institution existing between a man and a woman. A ruling on that count would have repercussions to a whole host of federal employee benefits, so it's perfectly legitimate for the Washington Post to examine what happens in such a case.
But "Federal Diary" columnist Joe Davidson went much further than that in his June 19 piece, "DOMA ruling could expand rights for gays, but with questions about full spousal benefits." Davidson made crystal clear to the reader his personal feelings on the illegitimacy of DOMA, that he would celebrate its demise, and that the Supreme Court failing to vacate the law would be an injustice (emphasis mine):
Federal employees have pushed as hard as anyone to get the Defense of Marriage Act overturned. The Supreme Court will rule on it within days.
But even if the court banishes DOMA to a discredited corner of history, it doesn’t necessarily mean federal workers in same-sex marriages will automatically get full spousal benefits.
First a recap:
Section 3 of DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The entire law is just over a page long. The relevant part says that for federal purposes “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.’’
That means federal employees in same-sex marriages are discriminated against because of the sex of their spouse. That can take a heavy and unfair financial toll on a marriage in the form of additional health-care payments and lost retirement benefits.
There’s also the damage to couples’ dignity, for which there is no price tag.
The law is short on words but long on the hurt it has caused.
If the court upholds DOMA, as the House Republican leadership has asked it to do, discrimination will continue. Overturning DOMA will be followed by cheers of celebration by those who believe in full human rights for all and also questions about its implementation. The office of House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) had no comment.
“It’s premature to speculate on what happens after a Supreme Court decision when we don’t have a decision,” said Fred Sainz, a vice president of the Human Rights Campaign, a gay rights organization. “When a decision comes down, the administration has said they will implement any Supreme Court ruling in compliance with the law, and we have every reason to believe that’s what they’ll do. President Obama has a record of advancing equality for gay and lesbian Americans, and we have confidence the president will move to protect our families.”
The Obama administration, however, would have a choice on how broadly to interpret a court decision to overturn DOMA, as reported last week by my colleague Peter Wallsten in The Washington Post and by the New York Times.
The question hinges on the “state of celebration” and the state of residence.
At a reception last week for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Pride Month, Obama did not mention the coming DOMA decision directly, but he did say, “We’re reaching a turning point. We’ve become not just more accepting; we’ve become more loving, as a country and as a people. Hearts and minds change with time. Laws do, too.”
He added: “And as I said in my inaugural address, if we truly are created equal, then surely the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
If DOMA falls, he’ll be able to apply that to benefits for federal employees, no matter where they live and to whom they said “I do.”