The latest legal challenge to the US Defense of Marriage Act began Thursday in a federal courtroom in Massachusetts, in a case that will determine whether gay couples legally married under state law are entitled to the same federal benefits that heterosexual couples receive.
Eight same-sex couples and three widowers, who filed their suit last year, are challenging the 1996 federal law known as DOMA, which bans gay marriage. They argue DOMA is unconstitutional because it denies them equal protection under the law.
The case puts the Obama administration in an unusual situation. The president has said he would like to see DOMA repealed, but the Justice Department is tasked with defending the law.
“The government does not presently support DOMA and would like to see it repealed, But we do argue for its constitutionality,” said Justice Department attorney W. Scott Simpson at the onset of his argument. He filed a motion to dismiss the challenge to the federal law, arguing for the US government’s right and responsibility to apply federal law as it sees fit, regardless of some states’ decision to “experiment” with broadening the traditional definition of marriage.
The argument, of course, is that if same-sex couples are going to pay federal income taxes and federal social security taxes, they should be allowed to do so as a couple, and should be allowed to receive social security survivor benefits etc. when one partner has died.
My question to that is: why?Giving certain federal benefits to married heterosexuals makes sense to me, because married heterosexuals are overwhelmingly likely to have children as the natural and expected result of their type of union; even if individual married couples are non-reproductive, the reality that most of these types of couples can and do produce and raise children is necessary to recognize. Benefits tied to parenthood outside of marriage likewise make some degree of sense, as people who are not married may still produce children and be responsible for them.
But a same-sex couple is by definition a sterile, non-reproductive couple--as a couple. If they end up responsible for children it will either be by the choice of adoption (or IVF or other evil means) or because of a previous heterosexual relationship. In no way does their "marriage" produce future citizens for the nation, and thus in no way does the nation owe them any sort of subsidy for their relationship.
Some would argue that this would mean the state would have to be "biased" in favor of heterosexual couples who are married. The state has every right to be biased in favor of that sort of couple, because that sort of couple is the sort of couple who produces future citizens and raises them in the most stable environment--again, individual variances notwithstanding. The state does not have to extend the same benefits to polygamous groups, for example, because even though such groups can certainly produce lots of future citizens, the stability of the environment for vulnerable members, particularly the younger "wives" and the children, is highly questionable. The state does not have to extend its benefits to same-sex couples either, who don't as a part of the relationship produce any future citizens at all; nor does the state have to extend its benefits to, say, every cohabitating heterosexual couple of at least six month's duration with no marriage contract between them, because while the production of future citizens may be a possibility, the state has no reason to suspect stability in a relationship which, however much it may call itself "committed," has not made the slightest effort toward establishing any legal committment whatsoever.
The truth of the matter is that marriage, as an institution, is a great deal older than the modern state, which, to me, considerably limits the state's power to redefine it; but even given that, the question is: why would the state have any compelling interest in redefining marriage in such a way as to require the payment of certain federal benefits to couples to whom these benefits have never been paid before?
If you think the state should do this--tell me why. And I'd especially like to know why you think same-sex couples should be given access to federal benefits that continue to be denied to polygamous groups and cohabitating heterosexuals.