The Supreme Court appears much closer to ending the federal Defense of Marriage Act than overturning California’s Proposition 8 and interfering with state’s rights. What’s the difference and how are parallels to racism and Jim Crow influencing the case?
Separate But Equal? ‘Full & Skim-Milk Marriages’
The Supreme Court’s stance on DOMA leaned favorably toward marriage equality after almost two hours of oral arguments on March 27. A majority of the justices voiced concerns for the constitutionality of a federally mandated definition of marriage, which currently is defined and recognized as being between a man and a woman only. As such, only heterosexual married couples are eligible to receive benefits like Social Security and tax breaks, while married same-gender couples, in states that have approved such unions, still are not recognized by the federal government.
Having two kinds of marriages, according to Associate Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, is likened to having “separate but equal” tiers, inferring a direct parallel to the faulted rationality the government once upheld in Jim-Crow-era laws. Ginsberg said:
They’re not–they’re not a question of additional benefits. I mean, they touch every aspect of life. Your partner is sick. Social Security. I mean, it’s pervasive. It’s not as though, well, there’s this little Federal sphere and it’s only a tax question. It’s — it’s — as Justice Kennedy said, 1100 statutes, and it affects every area of life. And so he was really diminishing what the State has said is marriage. You’re saying, no, State said two kinds of marriage; the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage.
Additionally, questions surrounding the original motives behind DOMA arose: “Well, is what happened in 1996–and I’m going to quote from the House Report here–is that “Congress decided to reflect an honor of collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.” Is that what happened in 1996?” asked Justice Elena Kagan.
Comparisons between same-gender-marriage bans and racism have become an increasing argument for the supporters of LGBT-rights. For example, pro-LGBT group Every1Against1 previously used Jim-Crow imagery in its campaign in support of marriage equality, and Howard University School of Law’s Civil Rights Clinic recently filed an amicus brief that compared both Prop 8 and DOMA, and similar same-gender-marriage bans with Jim-Crow era laws that prohibited interracial marriage and reinforced continuing discrimination against Blacks.
“Without acknowledging the racial provenance of these discredited arguments, opponents of marriage equality have attacked same-sex couples as a threat to American society, American families and heterosexual marriage, as an affront to the laws of God and nature, and as a menace to their children,” read the brief.
The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision on DOMA and Prop 8 sometime this summer.