In Defense of Marriage | John S. Hamlon | Catholic World Report
Why natural law arguments for marriage—while very important—are not enough
H. L. Mencken—satirist, progressive, pseudo-misogynist, provocateur—wrote a book in 1918 called In Defense of Women. Like an optical illusion, the title, depending on one’s focal point, can mean defending women or defending oneself from women. The irony is the initial hook.
If the executive and judicial branches of the US Government have their way with traditional marriage, the phrase “in defense of marriage” will likewise have two possible slants: defending the marital union as designed by God in the beginning or defending oneself from marital unions as designed by federal authority.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)
In 1996, President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The general purpose of DOMA was to cement, at the federal level, the traditional understanding of marriage. Why was that deemed necessary?
The seeds for DOMA were sown in 1993. Hawaii’s Supreme Court had ruled that limiting marriage to one man and one woman was probably unconstitutional (Baehr v. Miike). Immediately, there were those who anticipated trouble down the road. Indeed, they reasoned, if the Hawaiian legislature were to pass a same-sex marriage (SSM) law, the spores of that law could drift to other states by way of the Full Fair and Credit Clause of the United States Constitution.
That clause (c. 1789) states that “full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” In short, what is legally binding in one state is legally binding in other states. If, therefore, a same-sex married couple moved from a state that sanctioned SSM to one that did not, the new state of residence would have to recognize the couple’s bond.
Enter DOMA, which says that (1) no state is required to recognize a same-sex marriage from another state, and (2) the word “marriage,” for federal and inter-state recognition purposes in the United States, means a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.
DOMA does not restrict states from passing legislation for or against same-sex marriage. DOMA does prevent a same-sex couple who, married in a non-traditional marriage state, wants the same rights in a traditional marriage state. For the 31 states with constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage and for the 11 additional states that define marriage as between one man and one woman, DOMA is, in effect, an interstate anti-bullying law.