From the moment it was conceived, the Defense of Marriage Act was indefensible. The Supreme Court should send it to the dustbin of history, where it belongs.
Fortunately, Wednesday’s deliberations seemed headed in that direction, although it’s unclear which legal trash chute the justices will choose. A majority of them expressed skepticism that DOMA passes constitutional muster. No surprise there. Judicial experts have been questioning its validity from the day President Bill Clinton signed it into law Sept. 21, 1996.
DOMA defines marriage as between a man and woman and denies legally married same-sex couples the rights and benefits available to other couples married in the same states. Its elimination should please both social liberals and states-rights conservatives.
DOMA brought out the worst in Clinton, who caved on principle to shore up his bid for re-election. His Republican opponent, Sen. Bob Dole, had pushed DOMA as a wedge issue after a Hawaii court ruling paving the way toward gay marriage, throwing conservatives into a tizzy. Clinton’s advisers were running scared after the “don’t ask, don’t tell” fiasco for gays in the military and feared the president would lose votes if he stood up to Congress on DOMA, particularly since Republicans had enough votes to override a veto.
Clinton reportedly regretted his decision from the moment he put pen to paper. Presidents hardly ever admit to mistakes in office, but when the Supreme Court decided to take up this case, he wrote — in longhand — a column for the Washington Post saying “the law was discriminatory” and he wished he had not signed it.
Marriage between men and women doesn’t need defending. The rights of gays and lesbians do. The Supreme Court should put an end to an obviously discriminatory law.
The above editorial appeared in the San Jose Mercury News on Thursday.