In 1996, Congress enacted the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which added the following definition to the United States Code: “…[T]he 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. ” (Defense of Marriage Act sec. 3). Since the enactment of DOMA, however, five states (Iowa, New Hampshire, Connecticut, Vermont and Massachusetts) have come in direct conflict with the law by conferring full legal status to same-sex marriages.
Thus, a same-sex couple may be legally married in their state of residence but would not be recognized as such under federal law. The Supreme Court, in light of its own binding precedent, must recognize that marriage, is a constitutionally-guaranteed, fundamental right of all citizens. Because DOMA interferes with such rights, it must be overturned as unconstitutional, and the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages performed legally in states where such marriages are permitted. In a landmark post-DOMA case, the Supreme Court overturned its earlier decision in Bowers v.
Hardwick, and held that state anti-sodomy laws restricting consensual sexual behavior between adults, same-sex or otherwise, were unconstitutional (Lawrence v. Texas 558). The Court held “…that our laws and tradition afford constitutional protection to personal decisions relating to marriage, procreation, contraception, family relationships, child rearing, and education…. Persons in a homosexual relationship may seek autonomy [in making these choices]… just as heterosexual persons do” (Lawrence v. Texas 574). States’ ability to define or limit marriage is further diluted by the equal protection doctrine.
The right to marry is fundamental and, as such, cannot be defined so as to apply to citizens on an unequal basis or on the basis of classification. The equal protection doctrine is derived from the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution, which provides that no citizen of the United States or any state shall be denied “equal protection of the laws” (U. S. Constitution, amend. 14, sec. 1). Prior to 1996, the Supreme Court’s equal protection decisions progressively made strides toward greater personal freedoms and greater recognition of the fundamental rights of individuals.
By defining marriage solely as a relationship between a man and a woman, Congress attempted to slam the door on decades of Supreme Court jurisprudence. The Supreme Court famously addressed the right to marry as a matter of equal protection in the 1967 decision of Loving v. Virginia. Striking down anti-miscegenation statutes in more than 20 states, the court held “[t]here can be no doubt that restricting the freedom to marry solely because of racial classifications violates the central meaning of the equal protection clause” (Loving v.
Virginia 12). The Supreme Court has also recognized the right of prison inmates to marry (Turner v. Safley, 78). In so doing, the court addressed specifically whether the inability to consummate a marriage affects the constitutional protection afforded such a relationship. In her opinion for the court, Justice O’Connor wrote: “Many important attributes of marriage remain, however, after taking into account the limitations imposed by prison life….
[M]arriages…are expressions of emotional support and public commitment…hav[e] spiritual significance… [and] [f]inally, marital status often is a precondition to the receipt of government benefits (e. g. , Social Security benefits), property rights (e. g. , tenancy by the entirety, inheritance rights), and other, less tangible benefits…. These incidents of marriage, like the religious and personal aspects of the marriage commitment, are unaffected by the fact of confinement or the pursuit of legitimate corrections goals.