DOMA: Praying Ahead

At the end of two hours of oral arguments about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in U.S. v. Windsor, LGBTQ legal activists seemed cautious but optimistic that there are five votes at the Supreme Court to find DOMA unconstitutional. The New York Times editorial board writes, “The Supreme Court now has an opportunity to end the federal role in this discrimination — and to do so with a ringing affirmation of the importance of basic fairness.”

Edith Windsor filed the lawsuit because the federal government took $360,000 in estate taxes after her spouse died. Surviving spouses in heterosexual marriages do not have to pay estate taxes. Same gender couples are barred from over 1,138 federal rights because they are excluded from marriage.

As More Light Presbyterians, we stand on the side of love and fairness and call on the Supreme Court to do what is right and fair and find DOMA unconstitutional. MLP Interim Executive Director Patrick Evans joined nearly 400 people of faith this past week gathered at a church directly behind the Supreme Court for “A Prayer for Love and Justice.” The sunrise prayer service included prayers against discrimination and for liberation, love, and marriage equality.

“This is a historic moment in the life of our nation. It was thrilling for me to be in the courtroom for a few minutes of the oral arguments in the Windsor DOMA case. While it is clear that the Supreme Court should strike down DOMA whether or not public opinion supports such a ruling, we have reached a turning point in which the majority of Americans believe in marriage equality – even a majority of evangelicals under the age of thirty three. We are never going back.” ~ Patrick Evans, Interim Executive Director of More Light Presbyterians.

“As people of faith, More Light Presbyterians seek justice and mercy for those oppressed by DOMA.  We pray that the Supreme Court will overturn this unconstitutional law and provide the equal protection to all married couples, regardless of their gender, that is enshrined in the constitution.” ~ Nathan Sobers, Co-Moderator of More Light Presbyterians.

From the New York Times:

Paul Clement, who was defending the act on behalf of the House of Representatives, said its only purpose was to ensure uniformity in distributing federal marriage benefits. But Justice Elena Kagan dismissed that notion, suggesting that Congress’s judgment in passing the act was “infected by dislike, by fear, by animus.” Quoting from the House’s legislative history, she said, “Congress decided to reflect an honor of collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.”

That clear animus on the part of lawmakers explains why the court must strike down the law on equal-protection grounds, as a federal appeals court did last fall. The government needs to have an “exceptionally good” reason to justify treating gay men and lesbians differently, that court ruled, and Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg made a similar point today, saying that the law created “two kinds of marriage: the full marriage and then this sort of skim-milk marriage.”

Still, no matter what grounds the court eventually uses to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act, getting rid of it would be a huge step forward in the national movement toward marriage equality. Once it is clear that the only thing standing between same-sex couples and federal benefits is an ideological state legislature, the pressure will accelerate on states to do the right thing, particularly in states like Virginia with large numbers of federal employees.

The Supreme Court now has an opportunity to end the federal role in this discrimination — and to do so with a ringing affirmation of the importance of basic fairness.

The Keen News Service summarized oral arguments by saying, “LGBT legal activists seemed cautious but optimistic that there are five votes to find DOMA unconstitutional.”

“What gives the federal government the right to be concerned at all about the definition of marriage?” asked Sotomayor, noting that marriage has always been considered an area of state law. She suggested members of Congress appeared to create a law to disfavor a “class they don’t like.” …

Justice Ginsburg said DOMA appears to affect same-sex couples by turning their marriages into a sort of “skim milk,” in comparison to whole milk version enjoyed by male-female couples.

Justice Kagan perhaps hit the hardest note when she said the record of House proceedings around DOMA in 1996 seemed to indicate Congress “had something else in mind than uniformity….something that’s never been done before.” She quoted a passage of the House report that said that DOMA was intended to express “moral disapproval” of marriage for same-sex couples.

“That’s a pretty good red flag,” said Kagan.

Here are the audio and written records of the DOMA oral arguments at the Supreme Court.

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