COMMENTARY | Reuters reports that on May 31, a federal appeals court in Boston ruled the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional. The Defense of Marriage Act was passed in 1996, and banned same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits, even in states where gay marriage was legal. In 2010, President Barack Obama failed to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, and also said that the Department of Justice would no longer defend the law. Here is what this ruling could mean for the upcoming presidential election, and what it means for the country in general.
Ruling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional was the right move, just based on the fact that married same-sex couples should be afforded the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples. This decision will not be the end of this discussion however, since it will likely head to the Supreme Court for a final verdict. There have been bans on same-sex marriage in 32 states, but for the select few states that allow gay marriage, the benefits needed to be the same across the board. There is a conflict, however, since the federal government should not pass any laws condoning or allowing gay marriage and should not be in the marriage business in the first place. It should always be up to each state to determine whether gay marriage is legal or not, so this ruling just basically confirms that federal benefits will be awarded to gay couples in those states that approve of gay marriage. Another issue is though that if gay marriage is legal, it is almost forcing institutions to marry gay couples, which could go against religious beliefs and also be unconstitutional.
The fact that Obama failed to defend the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act was likely a foreshadowing of his support for gay marriage, since Obama did come out to support it on May 9. This ruling might really be a big issue in the upcoming general election, since Republicans are mostly against gay marriage, and do not want to see same-sex couples receiving federal benefits. Mitt Romney will probably mention supporting the Defense of Marriage Act, and I would assume he would try to get a similar bill passed if he was elected president. If the Republicans want to eliminate wasteful spending, then federal benefits for all couples should be removed. I do not think that married couples should receive special privileges at all, especially tax breaks or other federal benefits, regardless of whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. Obama will come out swinging trying to get votes based on his support of gay marriage and use this ruling to cite that he is correct in wanting same-sex couples to be treated fairly under the Constitution. Overall, I do not think that gay marriage will be what sways one voter to vote for either Obama or Romney, and might even turn more conservative voters off, since now gay couples can receive federal benefits.