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In Our View / Supreme Court

DOMA is thankfully done

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The Defense of Marriage Act was discrimination enshrined in law, President Barack Obama said on Wednesday. The U.S. Supreme Court's 5-4 decision striking down DOMA, along with its 5-4 decision to let stand for technical reasons a lower court ruling that California's Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, represent a sea change in equality and justice in the United States.
In his majority opinion on DOMA, Justice Anthony Kennedy used language that seemed a mix of Eleanor Roosevelt and St. Thomas Aquinas.
"The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity," he wrote. "By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment."
DOMA reflects an evolving political culture. In 1996, Washington Sen. Patty Murray voted for it, and President Bill Clinton signed it into law. Both have since renounced their support. It was, they acknowledge, reactive and discriminatory. For generations, the notion of gay rights as human rights was inimical to Americans. Homosexuality was literally illegal. Marriage equality was never a legislative priority for leaders such as the late Cal Anderson, the Washington state senator and gay rights pioneer. It took his successor, Sen. Ed Murray, years of arm twisting, shepherding incremental victories, for Washington to support full equality in 2012.
Thanks to Wednesday's decision, same-sex couples, with a spouse serving in the military or in the federal government, will begin to receive the same Social Security, pension and health benefits afforded heterosexual couples. This is inspired news for veterans such as Grethe Cammermeyer, the Whidbey Island resident and retired Army National Guard colonel who openly challenged the military's ban on gays and lesbians. Cammermeyer acted with courage and foresight, holding a mirror to the values she pledged to uphold as a naturalized American citizen (she is a native of Norway) and member of the armed forces.
In the cascade of "amen" press releases from state and local politicians, the Seattle Chamber of Commerce issued a statement that illustrates the evolution in Northwest thinking. "The Chamber believes there is a strong business case for marriage equality, and we are proud to be one of only three major chambers of commerce in the country that directly engaged in the legal debate in support of this decision."
Washington has, for decades, been in the vanguard of equality and human rights. As the debate over same-sex marriage demonstrates, vigilance is the ultimate safeguard of human dignity and equal rights.

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