President Barack Obama filed a legal brief asking the Supreme Court to eliminate Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act
For Lauren Malotra-Gaudet, 19, legalizing gay marriage is only meaningful if those couples receive the same marital rights as straight married couples.
That’s why the Barnard College sophomore was excited when she learned President Obama filed a legal brief asking the Supreme Court to eliminate Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — the segment that bans recognition of same-sex marriages for purposes of federal benefits.
“Getting rid of this would show that there’s not a legal recognition of not respecting a person,” Malotra-Gaudet said. “Even if it doesn’t go away, there’ll be a shift towards more respect for gay couples.”
Such action is the first Obama has taken since he announced support for same-sex marriage nine months ago. Obama’s stance against DOMA has gained many college students’ favor.
Intended to address Edith Windsor’s case — in which the Internal Revenue Service referred to DOMA in denying her estate tax refund for her deceased wife Thea Spyer — the brief helps normalize gay couples, Malotra-Gaudet said.
In the brief, Obama administration lawyers highlight the economic discrimination married same-sex couples face — as they cannot access federal financial marital benefits — and encourages courts to highly scrutinize laws about gay individuals.
Rhetoric in the document also humanizes gay rights issues in a similar manner to Obama’s 2010 executive order that granted gay couples the same hospital visitation as heterosexual couples, Tufts University junior Grianne Griffiths, 20, said.
“Turning the conversation to benefits is crucial in changing public consciousness,” Griffiths said. “It’s a federal issue that the Supreme Court needs to take a stand on.”
Yet the brief’s 14th-Amendment argument against DOMA likely isn’t enough to strike down the law, Wheaton College sophomore Marshall Thompson, 20, thinks.
Though it demonstrates the president’s consistency — Obama has previously stated opposition to DOMA — Thompson said this brief’s arguments about DOMA’s constitutionality aren’t enough to convince the Supreme Court to strike it down.
If the Supreme Court does follow Obama’s recommendation, it’s an example of political activism unlike anything this generation of college students has witnessed, Thompson said.
“For people that haven’t dealt with the overt racism that used to be in the law, it’s easy to forget the influence political activism can have,” Thompson said. “Activism, especially amongst the younger generation, can be effective in changing the mindset of the older generation.”
But it’s unclear how the brief will affect the Supreme Court’s decision in Windsor’s case.
While the college-aged demographic tends to favor same-sex marriage, sects of this population remain steadfast in their opposition — particularly when the federal government gets involved.
“This is the president taking matters into his own hands when he shouldn’t be,” Harvard College sophomore James McGlone, 19, said. “It seems to be that the executive branch is saying, ‘We think it’s unconstitutional so it shouldn’t be.’”
Anscombe Society college students, like McGlone, only condone unions between a man and woman. Members of this club nationwide believe DOMA should remain as it preserves an integral traditional value, McGlone said.
Beyond this organization, DOMA support resonates with some religious college students because the law aligns with the biblical definition of marriage, said John Ritchie, Tradition, Family and Property Student Action director.
Though Obama has formalized his DOMA opposition, he has until Thursday to file an amicus curaie about the Supreme Court case regarding California’s gay marriage ban, Proposition 8.
“Seeing that Obama said that DOMA should go away may make the Supreme Court think more about legalizing marriage in California,” Malotra-Gaudet said. “It was be very smart to time it right now.”
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