With the news that the Obama administration had decided to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in court broke today, the first question on many folks’ minds was how this might effect our local struggle for marriage equality, the fight against Proposition 8. According to the experts we spoke to, the answer is “not much,” but that reportedly won’t stop San Franciscans from celebrating tonight.
“It’s nice news,” says Connors regarding the end of an official federal defense of the 1995 law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, “but it’s strategic and the hysteria around the story shows what a powder keg the matter is. One little budge and everyone goes ape shit.”
“Since the Prop 8 case deals with a state initiative – an amendment to the (California state) constitution – today’s DOMA news has no effect. It’s two different layers of the same shitty sheet cake of American homophobia.”
The legal expert the Appeal consulted (the name of whom we agrees to keep confidential) generally agrees with Connors, saying that today’s announcement from Washington “just means that cases where the US attorney is involved (in jurisdictions where the issue hasn’t been already decided, like New York), they’ll take the position that DOMA is unconstitutional. The US attorney’s office isn’t involved in the Prop 8 case, so it probably won’t have much effect.”
According to Connors, “The DOJ decision today may help boost the No on 8 side in its call to lift the stay on Judge Walker’s decision.” What’s he’s referring to there is a brief filed today asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to allow gay and lesbian weddings to take place in the state while their legal case is pending.
In the brief, two couples who are challenging California’s ban on same-sex marriage say that the current “stay” (basically a hold) on same sex marriage enacted in August after U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker’s decision overturning Proposition 8 “can no longer be justified” because of today’s announcement of the federal decision not to defend DOMA.
Theodore Olson, a lawyer for the couples, said in a telephone news conference, “I think there are overpowering reasons. We hope the stay will be lifted promptly.”
The stay is presently expected to remain in place as the case slowly winds its way through the California state court system, with the next hearings in the case expected on September
Our legal expert reminds us, however, that just because the Obama administration won’t defend DOMA, doesn’t mean it’s not a law. For DOMA to stop being a law would require an act of Congress, like, hey, the bill Sen. Dianne Feinstein announced she’d introduce today to abolish the Defense of Marriage Act.
“My own belief is that when two people love each other and enter the contract of marriage, the federal government should honor that,” she said. “I opposed the Defense of Marriage Act in 1996. It was the wrong law then; it is the wrong law now; and it should be repealed.”
Until then, however, our legal expert says “the Feds are still going to enforce DOMA, they’re just not going to defend it. It’s kind of a hair-splitty position which I think is going to end up pleasing no one.”
Though no one might be pleased in the long run, that won’t stop local marriage equality fans from celebrating tonight: According to Stop8.org’s Facebook page, “a small informal celebration (is) planned in Castro this evening at 5 pm.” According to one organizer, anti- Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell activist Dan Choi has promised to attend, so it’s already a star-studded affair!
No word yet on exactly where (I’d guess Harvey Milk Plaza, that area right by the Muni station and Twin Peaks bar), but I will update if I hear more.