Recently, a federal court in Boston, Mass. struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act as it applies to same-sex marriages enacted in states like Massachusetts, which have made such unions equal to historically traditional marriages.

Known as ”DOMA,” while not formally invalidating same-sex marriages, the federal law signed in 1996 by President Bill Clinton prevents homosexual, and arguably polygamous couples, and/or survivors of such relationships from enjoying hundreds of benefits such as filing joint federal tax returns, collecting Social Security
survivor benefits, and sharing their health insurance.

In the case, Gill v. OPM, decided the last day of May, Nancy Gill and a group of same-sex couples and survivors married under Massachusetts’ same sex marriage law, sought to bar federal agencies and officials from enforcing DOMA in order that they might benefit from the same rights as heterosexual couples married in Massachusetts.

The federal appeals court reaffirmed a lower court decision which struck down the provision of DOMA defining marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and wording establishing that “spouse” must mean a person of the opposite sex.

Namely, the Court’s order holds “Under current Supreme Court authority, Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.”

Although the case opens the door for homosexuals to enjoy some federal benefits, it does not end the debate.

First, the court did not rule on whether discrimination against homosexuals should be afforded the same protections as other minority groups.

As it stands today, federal law does distinguish between a person’s sexual preferences and their race, religion, and gender—which are considered protected classes—unlike sexual inclinations.

According to the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), distinctions that are currently considered protected classes are race, color, religion, sex, national origin, disability, genetic information, or age. 

These characteristics are protected by separate federal laws: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (race, color, religion, sex, or national origin); Equal Pay Act of 1963 (sex-based wage discrimination); Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967 (protects individuals who are 40 years of age or older); the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990, as amended (prohibit employment discrimination against qualified people with disabilities); and the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act of 2008 (outlaws employment discrimination based on genetic information).’

Currently, there are no federal laws preventing someone, even an employer, from discriminating against a person because he or she is too tall or fat, enjoys country music, or favors intimate relationships with members of his or her own sex.

However, recently the EEOC, which enforces most federal work-place anti-discrimination laws, took a step to expand the family of federally protected classes. Namely, the EEOC recently held that a federal employee’s claim that he was being harassed by a fellow employee due to his planned same-sex marriage could be an example of a hostile work environment based on sexual stereotyping (i.e., that a man should only marry a woman).

Maryland attorney, Sondra Douglas, fears that these recent federal decisions could pave the way for rights being given to those who have certain sexual desires, which were hard-won by people, such as African Americans who, continue to face discrimination due to traits that they cannot change, or their constitutionally protected religious beliefs.
Douglas believes gays, lesbians, and transvestites are in fact looking for tax benefits and social acceptance more than anything else.  However, Douglas, asserts “just because their lifestyle doesn’t meet the standard doesn’t mean that the standard should change.”

Similar opposition to homosexual marriage is picking up steam. Recently, North Carolina, a state that went for Obama in 2008, recently voted to outlaw same-sex marriages.

In Maryland, a referendum appears almost certain to go to voters that if passed would block the law recently signed by Governor Martin O’Malley making homosexual and heterosexual marriages equal in the Terrapin state. The coalition supporting the referendum recently announced it submitted over 113,000 valid signatures of voters, more than two times the number necessary to put the referendum on the November ballot.

Mario Diaz, a lawyer with Concerned Women for America believes that “homosexual rights are on a collision course with religious liberty,” a right which Diaz points out is guaranteed by the U.S. constitution.  Namely, Diaz is leery about a time when someone might be socially persecuted and legally prosecuted for expressing their religious beliefs opposing homosexuality. 
The thought that homosexual rights should trump religious liberties is “illogical,” Diaz contends.

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Talib I. Karim and Brian Jones

Specials to the AFRO