Defending the Right of States to Define Marriage; Federal Law Mustn't Dictate Domestic Relations Rules to the States

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), January 15, 2014 | Go to article overview

Defending the Right of States to Define Marriage; Federal Law Mustn't Dictate Domestic Relations Rules to the States


Byline: Cathy Cleaver Ruse, SPECIAL TO THE WASHINGTON TIMES

To the casual observer, the Supreme Court seems to have given its stamp of approval to same-sex marriage, and both Congress and the states have been trumped in the matter.

The casual observer would be wrong, though. Setting marriage law and policy remains the prerogative of each state. Despite the recent Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor striking down a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, states can pass laws or amend their constitutions to protect the historical understanding of marriage as the union of one man and one woman, or they can change it.

Congress, on the other hand, never had the authority to establish marriage rules. When Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996, it was not attempting to ban same-sex marriage, but to answer what would soon be a pressing question: How should federal agents interpret the word marriage where it appears in federal law and regulation? DOMA said it should be interpreted to mean the union of one man and one woman.

The Supreme Court struck down this definition. The plaintiff before the court had been in a same-sex union that was recognized as a legal marriage under the law of her home state of New York. She argued that since her home state recognizes her same-sex marriage, the federal government should do so as well. Otherwise, state and federal law would treat her union differently, creating legal inconsistencies and hardships. The court agreed.

How should federal agents treat same-sex couples who are not legally married under the law of their home states? Thirty-three states do not issue marriage licenses to, or recognize out-of-state marriages between, same-sex couples. Should the federal government ignore states' authority in this area and treat these couples who are not legally married as married? The court's ruling in Windsor clearly does not require it, yet some federal agencies are doing just that.

In South Carolina, for example, legal marriage is only between one man and one woman. Same-sex couples who move to South Carolina cannot get married there, and if they were married in Massachusetts, they are no longer legally married in their new home state. When a federal agency such as the Internal Revenue Service begins treating that South Carolina couple as if they are married, the law of South Carolina is undermined, and the right of the people of South Carolina to pass marriage laws in their state is usurped.

The State Marriage Defense Act of 2014, sponsored by Rep. Randy Weber, Texas Republican, is a simple, common-sense response. …

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Defending the Right of States to Define Marriage; Federal Law Mustn't Dictate Domestic Relations Rules to the States
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