|Crucial Federal Marriage Equality Legislation Needed|
Marriage equality for same-sex couples gained momentum recently as a federal district court ruled unconstitutional the anti-equality California Proposition 8 passed by voters in 2008, and the state legislatures of Washington and New Jersey, and the Maryland General Assembly passed bills legalizing marriage for same-sex couples. The Maryland bill now heads to the state Senate. Washington Governor Chris Gregoire (D.) signed the bill into law, and Maryland Governor Martin O’Malley (D.) praised the legislation and has committed to signing it once it reaches his desk. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie (R.), who has publicly opposed marriage equality, on the other hand, vetoed the bill while arguing that the citizens of New Jersey should vote on the issue, which he asserted “represents a profoundly significant societal change.”
A number of politicians assert that the issue of marriage for same-sex couples must be left to the individual state legislatures or to the voters to decide because this falls under the category of states-rights or “majority rule,” and that the national government should not intrude by imposing its will on the states in this matter.
I argue most emphatically that marriage rights in general, and more specifically, legalization for same-sex couples is indeed a federal issue, and that national legislation or a Supreme Court decision must enforce the Fourteenth Amendment of the US Constitution, which mandates that “no state shall…deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Since different-sex couples, upon reaching legal age, are accorded the rights and benefits of marriage, the current 30 states with state constitutional amendments legitimizing marriage only “between a man and a woman” effectively deprive same-sex couples of “equal protection of the laws.”
So then, should the civil and human rights of minoritized peoples be placed up for a vote or left to the discretion of state legislatures? In other words, should the majority determine the rights of minorities?
Take the following cases for example:
If the issue of prohibiting the practice of slavery had not been settled in Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation and later codified in the US Constitution, and left to the individual states or by majority vote, I question whether the states would have uniformly voted on their own to outlaw the practice of slavery, and I indeed believe the practice of legalized slavery would have continued long after the Civil War in some states.
If the issue of school desegregation had not been settled in the 1954 Brown v. Board of Education US Supreme Court decision and later strengthen by the federal Civil Rights Act of 1964, and left to the individual states or to majority rule, I question whether the states would have uniformly relinquished the practice of de jure racial segregation, and I indeed believe that this practice would remain to this very day in some states.
If the issue of prohibiting individuals from different races from engaging in sexual relations (miscegenation) had not been settled in 1967 by the US Supreme Court in Loving v. Virginia and left to the individual states, I question whether the states would have uniformly relinquished the practice of arresting and incarcerating people of different races found engaging in sexual relations, and I indeed believe that these arrests and incarcerations would remain to this very day in some states. The court declared the state of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation statute, the so-called “Racial Integrity Act” of 1924, unconstitutional, thereby overturning Pace v. Alabama (1883) and ending all race-based legal restrictions on adult consensual sexual activity and marriage throughout the US.
If the issue of freedom of speech for grade school students had not been decided in Tinker v. Des Moines Independent Community School District in 1969 by the US Supreme Court, I question whether the states would have uniformly relinquished the practice of restricting or banning students their First Amendment rights, and I indeed believe that today, students would face severe consequences for expressing their constitutional rights.