One Step Closer to Equality

As my high school track Coach Paul Collins would tell me, "When you achieve a goal, recognize it, then set a higher one." Similarly, now's the time for those of us who support full marriage equality to do just that following the Supreme Court's recent decisions on gay marriage. Those decisions certainly achieved laudable goals, but higher ones have to now be set and successfully pursued.

The Hollingsworth v. Perry and Windsor v. United States cases reverberate positively across America as same-sex couples begin to exercise their new right to get married and enjoy certain federal and state marriage benefits that were previously denied. But the rulings are also being seen harshly by the religious right and other anti-marriage equality activists, many of whom are greatly angered by what the court decided. American Family Association president Tim Wildmon claimed that the ruling meant "America is shaking its fist at God almighty," while Mark Krikorian, the director of the Center for Immigration Studies, made the ridiculous claim that the DOMA decision will lead to legalized polygamy.

It's worth noting that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was not completely struck down by the recent victory. The Court's ruling invalidated the part of DOMA that unfairly rewarded people of one sexual orientation with government benefits while excluding those of another. Now the federal government must grant federal marriage benefits to same-sex couples in states that allow same-sex marriage.

Unfortunately, the sections of DOMA that are still in effect continue to be a source for unequal treatment. These sections mainly deal with the ability of a state government to deny recognition of same-sex marriages that originate in other states. The result, which cannot be allowed to stand, is that some Americans will enjoy federal benefits for their marriage while others will not just because they moved to a state that does not recognize their marriage.

That's why it is so important that activists, be they from the civil rights, LGBTQ, nontheist, or faith-based communities, unite to overturn the remaining parts of DOMA and bring us closer to true marriage equality. Thankfully, the Respect for Marriage Act was recently introduced in Congress to do just that, and it already has 164 co-sponsors in the House (H.R.2523) and 41 cosponsors in the Senate (S. 1236) as well as bipartisan support.

Overturning the remaining section of DOMA will do some important things, but it's only a temporary goal. By repealing the rest of DOMA, same-sex couples that were legally married in one state but moved to a state without marriage equality will continue to enjoy the same federal marriage benefits, but it will not force states that prohibit marriage equality to legalize same-sex marriages and provide state marriage benefits. That being said, repealing DOMA is still an important step forward that would help same-sex couples to receive important government benefits.

Winning the struggle for marriage equality will require time and energy spent on two separate fronts; discriminatory laws must be fought on both the federal and state levels. Repealing all of DOMA is a fundamental part of ending federal marriage discrimination, but it must be accompanied at the same time by efforts to legalize same-sex marriage in the states that currently maintain discriminatory marriage laws. Our elected representatives in Congress therefore have a duty to show the rest of the country just how it is done through leading by example and repealing DOMA.