Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

A Good Week for Gay Rights

Pennsylvania gay marriage

Three big developments this week have gays, lesbians and anyone who gives a damn about equality and civil rights smiling.

On Wednesday, the Obama administration announced that it will no longer defend the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a federal law  enacted by President Bill Clinton that  defines marriage as only between one man and one woman and bans government recognition of same-sex marriage. It was a huge decision for an administration that has garnered mixed reviews for its record on defending gay rights. “For the first time, the president of the United States has taken the position that laws that discriminate against gays are unconstitutional,” gay rights expert and Northwestern University law professor Andrew Koppelman told USA Today.

Attorney General Eric Holder said: “Much of the legal landscape has changed in the 15 years since Congress passed DOMA. The Supreme Court has ruled that laws criminalizing homosexual conduct are unconstitutional. Congress has repealed the military’s ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy. … But while both the wisdom and the legality of DOMA will continue to be the subject of extensive litigation and public debate, this administration will no longer assert its constitutionality in court.”

President Obama himself has said he opposes same-sex marriage, but he believes DOMA to be unfair. New White House Press Secretary Jay Carney said the President is “still grappling” with his personal views on the controversial subject of gay marriage.

Not everyone was happy with President Obama’s decision to stop defending DOMA. “While Americans want Washington to focus on creating jobs and cutting spending, the president will have to explain why he thinks now is the appropriate time to stir up a controversial issue,” said Brendan Buck, a spokesman for House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH).

Hot on the heels of President Obama’s DOMA rejection came word that Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie signed into law a bill that will legalize same-sex civil unions in the Aloha State. The law, which will go into effect on January 1, 2012, will extend the same rights and benefits to same-sex couples as people in “traditional” marriages enjoy. “People have worked long and hard for this day,” Abercrombie said at the bill-signing ceremony in Honolulu, “This is a prime example of exercising civic courage. It is about doing what is right, no matter how difficult, no matter how much opposition.” The governor called the bill “the essence of the Aloha spirit.”

While civil unions are not marriages, Hawaii’s move is a laudable step in the right direction. Said Alan Spector, co-chairman of Equality Hawaii, a LGBT rights group: “Civil unions are not marriage, but they at least provide — on a state level — the concrete, tangible, legal rights and responsibilities of marriage. We still don’t have the social significance and the social meaning of marriage … but getting us to civil unions — psychologically and legally — is such a major barrier to cross.”

Next came news that the Maryland state Senate approved a bill that would grant full marriage rights to same-sex couples. To the cheers of activists seated in the balcony, senators voted to approve the bill that now heads to the House of Delegates for another vote. If it passes there, Governor Martin O’Malley, a Democrat, has said he would sign it into law, making Maryland the sixth state (and the District of Columbia) to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

It has indeed been a good week for gay rights!

UPDATE: President Obama today announced the appointment of Jeremy Bernard to the position of Social Secretary. Bernard is the first male and first homosexual to hold the post.

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