Posted by: Nate Nelson | October 27, 2009

Specter Comes Out Swinging Against DOMA

Writing for the Huffington Post, Sen. Arlen Specter (D-PA) has come out swinging against the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), arguing that it “is a relic of a more tradition-bound time and culture.” Specter ties DOMA to other failed attempts at federal control of morality and behavior, citing the example of alcohol prohibition. Specter also argues for hate crimes legislation that he co-sponsored, employment non-discrimination legislation, and repeal of the military’s Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell (DADT) policy.

I suspect that Specter’s vocal support for gay rights has a lot to do with the primary challenge he’s facing from Joe Sestak, perceived by many liberal activists to be the “true Democrat” while Specter is perceived as a Democrat in name only (DINO?). Still, I tend to agree with Specter on most of this. And I challenge my conservative friends to explain how their opposition to same-sex marriage and repealing the DADT policy meshes with their generally pro-liberty message.

Still, I have to take issue with a complete repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act. I agree with Specter that the federal government should recognize and extend full rights and responsibilities to state-recognized same-sex marriages. As it stands, DOMA places the federal government on the side of states that oppose same-sex marriage. I feel that marital and family law are firmly under state jurisdiction, so the federal government should remain a neutral party — recognizing same-sex marriages in states where they are legal, but not interfering with states in which same-sex marriage is illegal.

But let me say that again: The federal government should not interfere with states in which same-sex marriage is illegal. That’s why I don’t think DOMA should be completely repealed. Another clause from the Defense of Marriage Act exempts states that have banned same-sex marriage from the constitution’s “full faith and credit” clause, which generally requires states to recognize marriages legally contracted in other states. If the federal government repeals this part of DOMA, it will essentially be siding with states that have permitted same-sex marriage over states that do not.

Aside from the consequences this would have for states’ rights — and I suppose I am now a racist for using the term “states’ rights” — there are practical consequences, as well. The tide seems to be gradually turning in favor of same-sex marriage, as Specter points out. That could change rapidly if people feel that same-sex marriage is being forced upon them, and the GLBT community could see a backlash that might lead to the ratification of a Federal Marriage Amendment. If Washington tries to do too much too quickly and relinquishes its neutral stance in regard to same-sex marriage, it could have dire consequences for GLBT Americans.

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