As Supreme Court Weighs Marriage Equality, A History Lesson for All

So long as the laws are used to deny equality, are any of us "free?" 

Yesterday, several members of the U.S. Supreme Court hinted that states, like California, that offer civil unions to same-sex couples should not be penalized for creating a separate institution with the equal benefits of marriage.

Sound familiar?

Far from being “generous,” as one Justice suggested, legal distinctions based on sexual orientation—like those based on race and national origin—are intended to mark the minority group as inferior.  The Court should keep that in mind as it hears today’s arguments about the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that denies federal rights and benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in states that allow them to wed.

DOMA—like 19th- and early 20th-century laws that were designed to oppress African Americans—was explicitly intended to relegate gay and lesbian people to a lesser legal and social status.

The House Report urging DOMA’s passage openly expresses moral disapproval of gay and lesbian families.  For example, the report states that laws that exclude gay and lesbian couples from the institution of marriage “reflect and honor a collective moral judgment about human sexuality.  This judgment entails both moral disapproval of homosexuality, and a moral conviction that heterosexuality better comports with traditional (especially Judeo-Christian) morality.”

The report also attempts to justify the law based on the inaccurate stereotype that gays and lesbians are unfit parents.

Again, this is nothing new.  In 1967, supporters of Virginia’s anti-miscegenation law warned the Court that biracial children would be genetically inferior, grow up without the necessary “social inheritance” provided in monoracial households, and be more likely to have parents who divorce.

The Supreme Court rejected these unfounded arguments then, and it should reject them now.  Laws, like DOMA, that demean and oppress minority groups have no place in American society.

Ría Tabacco Mar is assistant counsel of the Economic Justice Project, NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund.