In 1978, the Supreme Court struck down as unconstitutional a Wisconsin law that denied marriage licenses to individuals behind on their child support payments. Nine years later, the Court overturned a Missouri law barring incarcerated felons from marrying without the permission of their warden.
The basis for these rulings: Marriage is a fundamental right—and protected under the due process and equal protection clauses of the U.S. Constitution.
LGBT service members deserve the same rights as felons and deadbeat dads.
Repealing “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” lifted an enormous burden for gay and lesbian service members, allowing them to serve their country openly and proudly. Some chose to marry in states where it was legal. But their families are still considered second-class under the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
DOMA is what prevents families of legally married LGBT servicemen and women from accessing hundreds of federal benefits that we routinely give to military families, including healthcare, housing, and even survivorship benefits.
So, if a legally married LGBT service member dies in service to our country, the federal government cannot take care of his or her family the way we would take care of a heterosexual service member’s family.
By discriminating against LGBT service members, veterans, and their families, these laws force the military to violate some of its most sacred commitments to our men and women in uniform. That’s why representatives from the military’s highest ranks have come out in favor of marriage equality: Earlier this month, more than 30 generals, admirals, and colonels signed on to an amicus curiae brief urging the Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. I had the privilege of adding my name to the brief as well.
Treating some military families as second-class citizens is no way to repay them for risking their lives every day to protect this country. The Court should take this opportunity to declare that all Americans—including our LGBT men and women in uniform—have the fundamental right to marry the person they love.
In 2008, President Obama campaigned on a promise to repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” And I have never been prouder than I was in December 2010 when, after years of hard work, I watched my colleagues in Congress vote to end this discriminatory restriction on gays and lesbians in the military.
In the years since DADT, support for marriage equality has grown to levels that were unimaginable even a short time ago. Now, nine states and the District of Columbia allow marriage equality. Sixty-two percent of my fellow Catholics believe all Americans should have the freedom to marry (NYT/CBS Poll Feb 2013). And last week’s Washington Post-ABC poll found that 58% of Americans believe that same-sex couples should be able to get married. Among adults age 18 to 29, support for marriage equality hits an astounding 81%.
Fourteen times over the past fifty years, the Supreme Court has ruled that American citizens have a fundamental right to marry. The Court has stood up for the rights of felons, for the rights of deadbeat dads, and most famously, for the rights of interracial couples. Now it’s time for the court to stand up for the rights of LGBT service members and their families.
Every man or woman who enlists in the U.S. Armed Forces takes an oath to defend the U.S. Constitution. This week, Supreme Court must make sure service members receive the same rights that they risk their lives to protect and defend.