Thursday, December 13, 2012

The 14th Amendment: Equal Protection?

     Aside from the commerce clause, the 14th amendment to the United States Constitution could be the most broadly interpreted element in constitutional law.  The 14th amendment spans across several issues.  Its five parts address such subjects as citizenship to those born in this country, disallowing those convicted of sedition to run for office,  the national debt, and of course, equal protection under the law.  A portion of the amendment reads "...nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."
     The Supreme Court has decided to hear arguments regarding gay marriage this spring.  Several states around the nation have tried to amend their constitutions in order to totally outlaw same-sex marriage.  The Supreme Court of the United States was designed to be apolitical in nature.  However, some of its more recent rulings have not reflected how our founders designed it to rule.  Antonin Scalia is one of the more conservative justices on the court and very predictably often rules towards the right of an issue which, in the purpose of the court, is a negative.  The Supreme Court is expected to give its ruling on California's Proposition 8 or its law defining marriage as between a man and women in June before it recesses for the summer.
     I cannot understand how these states can justify banning same-sex marriage or define marriage in this manor under the 14th amendment.  Under equal protection of the law, homosexual couples should enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples.  In many cases, same-sex couples struggle with or are denied health insurance benefits under family plans because the states in which they live do not allow them to wed. Homosexual couples who choose to adopt also run into similar problems with coverage for their children depending upon who the adopting parent is.  Since they are not recognized by the state as a couple, generally only one parent can gain custody.  However, that child will only enjoy benefits from his or her adoptive guardian whereas in traditional families, health coverage can be provided to the entire family (spouse included) under just one guardian.  I do not see how this qualifies as "equal protection under the law."
     Currently nine states and the District of Columbia allow gay marriage.  These states include Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Maryland, Iowa, and Washington.  Thirty one states have amendments to their constitutions which actually ban gay marriage while six states have laws preventing gay marriage.  As many as 10 countries allow same-sex couples to wed.  This is a testament to the recognition of the changing times and the evolving world.
     The Defense of Marriage Act or DOMA was signed into law by President Clinton in 1996.  This piece of legislation was aimed at keeping marriage traditional-between a man and a woman.  DOMA states, ‘‘No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.’’  It goes on to define marriage as,  "...only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.’’
     As the Supreme Court gears up to hear arguments pertaining to this issue, I am curious to see what legal precedent or what broad interpretation they can muster which rules unfavorably against same-sex marriage.  To me, this is an issue of individuals enjoying equal protection under the law and under the 14th amendment, states should not be allowed to define what marriage is or, more importantly, ban marriage between a man and a man or a woman and a woman.     

1 comment:

  1. Supporters of DOMA insist that legalizing same-sex marriage will undermine traditional marriages. They also maintain that children are more stable when raised in a "traditional" family. I'm not sure if there are statistics from any reputable, independent sources that support either allegation. Same-sex relationships have been in existence since time immemorial-it's time to afford them the same legal rights and privileges as those given to "traditional" marriages. Also, we should drop the term, "traditional" in reference to marriage-love is love no matter who is sharing it.