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The Day Marriage Equality Came to The United States (Kinda Sorta)

To provide a bit of context, take a minute to allow Peter Cook to enlighten you on what the Supreme Court’s decision yesterday was about:

 

That’s right, marriage brought the Supreme Court June 26, or rather striking down the defense of it. In two landmark decisions, the highest court both struck down part of the Defense of Marriage Act enacted in 1996, and preserved a California lower court’s decision overturning Proposition 8, which was enacted in 2008. Both decisions were monumental victories for equality in the United States and the Gay community. Proposition 8 only relates to California, as it was state law that only validated marriages between a man and a woman in that state.

The most crucial victory nationwide was taking the venom out of DOMA.  This venom came in the form of denying rights to gay couples legally married by a state; rights that are usually allowed to opposite gender married couples. These rights can range from taxation to shared health insurance to being able to visit a sick spouse on the hospital. With this decision, the Federal Government can now never overstep a state government that does provide those rights.

With that last point, this decision should be seen as a victory for proponents of state’s rights as well. In an article by the Associated Press, Justice Anthony Kennedy was quoted that the law “a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states.” The definition of marriage has been left to the states, and DOMA served only to overrule any state that did legally recognize married gay couples, and gave them rights and benefits accordingly.

What this does not mean is that gay marriage is now legal across the entire nation. This decision actually could set the precedent that marriage can never be defined at the federal level, and must be defined state by state. A few states have already made it legal, and California can now be counted among them thanks to the Prop 8 decision. Some states are deciding it in the near future, but without DOMA basically making equality at the state level a wash, every state will probably address the issue in the near future, even if that state has never been a significant location in the fight for equal rights.

The hurdles of a state-by-state struggle for equality are fairly arduous. Those aforementioned low-key states usually are the ones where the equality clause is met with fierce opposition legally and culturally. Also, because every state will be able to decide on this issue for themselves, some will probably choose to define marriage as a man and woman. It would truly reveal the bigotry present in some state legislatures and populations, but the decision would have to be respected, and the LGBTQ communities would have to adapt accordingly.

I hope that scenario never comes to pass.  The Supreme Court has now given states the opportunity to lead the charge for progress and equality, and I hope they all jump at the chance. The longer this civil rights struggle wears on the longer this nation placates bigotry and ignorance, and forgoes important issues of the future.

Read the actual decision on Proposition 8 here.

Validating a Moral Belief

Morality is the most subjective concept in existence. Bar none. It epitomizes “Different Strokes,” both the folksy saying and the theme song (what might be right for you, may not be right for some) and it is something I believe every human, religious or otherwise, possesses a sense of or defines in some way. That subjective morality influences and sometimes even forces an individual’s actions, and shapes how he or she perceives the world and how the world perceives him or her.

Cut to this woman Margaret Doughty of Texas:

According to this article from the Huffington Post, the 64-year-old Doughty has been a permanent U.S. Resident for over 30 years with no problems, and she has recently applied to gain citizenship. Great! I’m glad she made that choice to be a citizen of a place that has been her home for three decades. She’s also an Atheist. That’s also fine, as the country whose citizenship she’s applying for protects an individual’s religious beliefs (or lack thereof.)

However, Doughty’s application was denied. This rejection comes not initially from a religious base, but the devil is in the details. She was denied because she wanted to be listed as a conscientious objector, a person who refuses to take up arms, even to defend one’s country, on moral or religious grounds. Though this refusal may have been a bigger issue in the past, today the United States would have to be in military dire straits to enlist a 64-year-old regardless of gender, much less someone whose personal moral code compels them to refuse service.

People in the U.S. are allowed to do this, however it is only allowed if the religious organization they are affiliated with has a position of pacifism. Doughty being an atheist is not affiliated with any religious organization. According to this article by dividedundergod.com, when Doughty applied to be a conscientious objector,  the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Sevices (USCIS) told her

“Please submit a letter on official church stationery, attesting to the fact that you are a member in good standing and the church’s official position on the bearing of arms.”

I find it sad and appalling that our government, which neither bans nor officially recognizes any religion, requires a membership of a church (the excerpt quoted specifically said church instead of a vaguer “religious organization”) to moral refuse military service. What is even sadder is that from what I can gather, the USCIS is legally in the right, and can lawfully deny this. This policy is not in the spirit of the First Amendment. Hopefully because of the attention surrounding this case this misconstruction can be rectified.

As I close these thoughts, I’ll leave you with Doughty’s own words on the question of taking up arms for one’s country, as taken from this letter from the American Humanist Legal Center to the USCIS:

I am sure the law would never require a 64 year-old woman like myself to bear arms, but if I am required to answer this question, I cannot lie. I must be honest. The truth is that I would not be willing to bear arms. Since my youth I have had a firm, fixed and sincere objection to participation in war in any form or in the bearing of arms. I deeply and sincerely believe that it is not moral or ethical to take another person’s life, and my lifelong spiritual/religious beliefs impose on me a duty of conscience not to contribute to warfare by taking up arms . . . my beliefs are as strong and deeply held as those who possess traditional religious beliefs and who believe in God . . . I want to make clear, however, that I am willing to perform work of national importance under civilian direction or to perform noncombatant service in the Armed Forces of the United States if and when required by the law to do so.