On Tuesday morning, three US congressmen held a press conference to announce the Respect for Marriage Act, a proposed law that would repeal the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act — which defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
At the conference, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said that same-sex couples “have debunked the baseless myth that their marriages would somehow undermine or destroy the institution of marriage. The sky has not fallen, as our opponents had argued it would.” The true harm of the law, he said, “is the harm it causes same-sex couples and their families.”
This is a bill that has very little chance of passing. Though it has 90 co-sponsors, they are all Democrats. There is also no comparable bill under consideration in the Senate, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has indicated that repealing DOMA will be a low priority for her party. Additionally, openly gay Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) has said that he does not believe that a repeal of DOMA could get through Congress anytime soon.
The unwillingness of Democratic leaders to push on this issue is understandable. They are in the midst of a bitter fight over health care reform, and it would probably be bad strategy for them to antagonize the Right any further. The passage of Proposition 8 last year in what is widely considered one of America’s most liberal states indicates the extent of the opposition to legalizing gay marriage, and the Democrats certainly do not want to awaken that sleeping giant and add to their current troubles.
However, just because something is understandable does not mean it is right. DOMA has always been, and continues to be, a system of codified discrimination against homosexuals. The US has traditionally prided itself on the protection that it offers to its minorities, but that stance is challenged by the hatred and fear-motivated popular resistance against allowing gays and lesbians to call themselves “married.”
Opponents of recognizing same-sex marriages often use apocalyptic arguments but, as Nadler mentioned, in the states in which homosexuals are allowed to get married, the sky has not fallen. Men and women still get married and have children, just like in every other state. In fact, those states — Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont and Iowa — are often stereotyped as places that do not face many of the social problems that exist in places where homosexuals are not permitted to express themselves on the same level as everyone else.
Opponents also like to say that repealing DOMA would harm “the sanctity of marriage.” This is the argument that I find most laughable. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, in 2009 there were nearly half as many divorces as marriages in our country. I think it is safe to say that whatever sanctity of marriage was inherited by our parents’ and grandparents’ generations has gone out the window by now. So, what exactly are we protecting?
I really believe that many of the people making these arguments see through them as much as I do. These polemics serve as facades for what is often simply fear and hatred of homosexuality — something that is as hard to debate as it is to overcome, and something that is a giant red flag for liberal-minded policymakers.
I have little doubt that our government’s discrimination against homosexuals will disappear with the passage of time. A May 2009 CNN/Opinion Research Corporation poll showed 54 percent of respondents opposed to same-sex marriage and 44 percent in favor of it; among 18- to 34-year-olds, 58 percent supported same-sex marriage. That percentage goes down as age rises, culminating in only 24 percent of Americans 65 and older supporting the recognition of same-sex marriages.
History shows that this pattern is a common one. In 1948, about 90 percent of American adults opposed legalizing interracial marriage. In 1967, the number was 72 percent, and only in 1991 did those opposed to it finally become a minority. As people who were raised to have a completely outdated outlook die and younger generations begin to dominate the population, public opinion shifts to demand a more tolerant and inclusive society.
But waiting for the inevitable is an unacceptable way of dealing with a problem when it means prolonging the pain that many homosexuals in America feel because their country tells them that something is wrong with them. Interracial marriage was legalized in California in 1948 and nationally in 1967, despite widespread opposition. Thanks to the brave efforts of those who fought for what was right, people who loved someone of a different race did not have to wait decades in order to get married just because that was how long it took for the inevitable to happen.
If this issue is something that you feel strongly about, do something. Write to your congressperson — especially if he or she is not one of the 90 co-sponsors of the Respect for Marriage Act. Talk to a friend or relative about same-sex marriage, because they may not know that our federal government has an official policy against it or that a sliver of opportunity exists to repeal the policy this year.
It is time for our representatives to stop waiting for the inevitable. The time is now to put official discrimination against homosexuals where it belongs — in the dustbin of history.
Daniel Charnoff is a junior majoring in international relations (global business).