“People all over the world / Join hands / Start a love train. Love train!”—The O’Jays
Attorney General Eric Holder has announced that his agency will issue a memorandum this week stating that the Department of Justice will recognize same-sex marriages to the full extent of the law in all jurisdictions. That means that, in the 16 states where marriage equality is already the law of the land, those loving couples will now be treated equality in matters from survivor’s benefits to bankruptcy proceedings to prison visitations that the Department of Justice oversees.
And in addition, the Department of Justice will recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states for purposes of federal jurisdiction and services in other states. That means that if a same-sex couple is married in New York but lives in Alabama—a state that does not (yet) recognize marriage equality—in a federal trial, that couple could access “spousal immunity” and not be forced to testify against and incriminate each other. An example like this seems simple, even small on paper, but can have a profound in just one family’s life.
Gay rights groups correctly hailed Attorney General Holder’s announcement as a big deal. The Human Rights Campaign said, “This landmark announcement will change the lives of countless committed gay and lesbian couples for the better.” Yup.
But the anti-gay National Organization for Marriage, unsurprisingly, disagreed. Brian Brown, head of the organization, characterized the move as the latest by the Obama Administration to “undermine the authority and sovereignty of the states to make their own determinations regulating the institution of marriage." And yet, the opposite is in fact true. The 16 states that have legalized marriage between same-sex couples are entitled to have their laws duly recognized and treated equally by all parts of the federal government. To do anything less, as NOM would demand, would be undermining the authority and sovereignty of those 16 states
Ah, but what about the other 34 that have not (yet) legalized marriage equality? Well, gee, all states already have different laws governing marriage. Alabama, for instance, doesn’t require a blood test to get a marriage license and does not require a waiting period between obtaining said license and tying the knot. Mississippi does require a blood test as well as a three-day waiting period between obtaining your license and saying, “I do.” Would Alabama argue that the federal Department of Justice is violating the “authority and sovereignty” of Mississippi by recognizing marriages performed under Alabama’s more lax laws? Probably not. In fact, the state of Mississippi itself recognizes (heterosexual) marriages performed in a blood-free rush just across the state border.
In fact, arguably it is Alabama (and Mississippi and Texas and Utah and Idaho and the others) who are violating the “authority and sovereignty” of their fellow states by failing to recognize the marriages those states duly, legally authorize. Here I could quote the United States Constitution, Article IV, Section 1, known as a the “Full Faith and Credit Clause” which reads: “Full faith and credit shall be given in each state to the public acts, records, and judicial proceedings of every other state.” Or I could quote the O’Jays again, because the fact is that while Alabama and Mississippi and Texas and Utah and Idaho and the others don’t currently have marriage equality in their own states, they someday very soon will. A majority of Americans now support marriage equality. That support is even higher among Millennials, the rising generation of voters.
Or as the O’Jay’s put it: “Tell all the folks in Russia and China to /Don't you know that it's time to get on board /And let this train keep on riding, riding on through”
When a train is coming, you better get on board or get out of the way. Thank you, Department of Justice and President Obama, for joining the love train!