Without Nationwide Gay Marriage, U.S. Government Discriminates

This piece by Evan Wolfson was originally published by U.S. News and World Report on October 7, 2011. You can read the full piece here.

Marriage is an important moment in life when we make a public promise of love and dedication to the person we are building a life with, and ask our friends and family to support us and hold us accountable. Couples who've made that commitment in life should have the same commitment under the law; that commitment is called marriage.

Under the law, marriage touches every aspect of life, from birth to death, with taxes in between. Denial of the freedom to marry is one of the harshest inequalities inflicted on lesbian and gay families—discrimination by their own government. Government has no business blocking people seeking to care for their loved ones, particularly in these tough economic times, nor should it punish children by depriving their families of the critical safety net and meaning marriage brings.

Gay couples share in the freedom to marry in six states and the District of Columbia (along with 12 countries on four continents); the sky hasn't fallen. In fact, tens of thousands of couples and their families have been helped while no one has been harmed.

Recent census data leave no question that gay families live in every corner of the United States. Denied the freedom to marry, they are discriminated against by their home states, and also targeted for an additional layer of discrimination from the federal government: the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

DOMA harms married same-sex couples by withholding the more than one thousand federal responsibilities and protections accorded all other married couples—including Social Security survivor benefits, tax fairness, access to health coverage, and recognition of family ties for immigration purposes. DOMA divides married Americans into two classes, those with marriages the federal government likes, and those married to someone of whom the federal government disapproves. And DOMA discriminates against states, telling them that even if they end marriage discrimination, the couples they legally married will be carved into two groups – a mandatory "gay exception" to the normal respect for marriage.

America should not be a house divided in which couples and those they deal with, including employers, are forced to play "now you're married, now you're not." In the United States, we don't have second-class citizens, and we shouldn't have second-class marriages. It's time to follow the Golden Rule—treating others as you want to be treated—and the Constitution, which commands equal justice for all, and end marriage discrimination nationwide.