Liberal fans of the ABC reality drama Extreme Makeover will be in "hog heaven" if they watch proceedings at the U.S. Supreme Court this week. For what the plaintiffs in the suit against California's "Proposition 8" are trying to do is achieve something Barack Obama promised in the final days of the 2008 presidential campaign. Five days before that year's election, the junior senator from Illinois told the nation and the world that we were just "five days away from fundamentally transforming the United States of America."
It may be that not everyone who voted for Barack Obama that November was in favor of "fundamentally transforming" America. Some no doubt were just tired of that grumpy old white guy, John McCain, the senior Senator Forever from Arizona. But if the high court rules California's law unconstitutional, the legal status of marriage in America will be very much on the rocks. And what could be more fundamental in the life of a community, state, or nation than its definition of marriage?
The court will be hearing two cases on Tuesday and Wednesday affecting the status of marriage. One will be a suit to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. While not overturning any state law to the contrary, DOMA said that as far as the federal government is concerned, marriage is a union between man and woman, male and female, period.
That affects a whole range of issues involving such things as inheritance rights, estate settlements, federal taxes on inheritance, and other issues that have an impact, in some cases significant, on same-sex couples who are legally married in one of the half a dozen or so states that include same-sex unions under the umbrella of marriage law. The case against DOMA is, from a civil rights perspective, that it unfairly and unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex couples who are denied by the federal government what the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution requires of the states: "equal protection of the laws."
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