On Obama's Defense of the Defense of Marriage Act

Or—"Schmope and Schmange: I Ain't Spending My Political Capital on Queers."

Friday afternoon, the Obama administration filed a brief (via) in the case of Arthur Smelt and Christopher Hammer vs. the US, State of California, et. al. Smelt and Hammer, a gay couple legally married in California, argued that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) denies them the right to have their marriage legally recognized in other states and also denies their access to federal benefits afforded opposite-sex couples. It was an opportunity for the Obama administration to take a firm stand against the law, which Obama called "abhorrent" during his campaign.

Instead, the brief justified the law, using the same tired old chestnuts we came to expect from Obama's predecessor, including the despicable comparison of states' right to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages with their right to refuse to recognize incestuous marriages and unions that would be considered statutory rape under state law, as well as the pathetic contention that a union between one man and one woman is "the traditional, and universally recognized, version of marriage." Blah blah yawn.

Setting aside for the moment the fact that an opposite-sex, two-person union is not, in fact, a "universally" recognized and singular version of marriage, let us deal only with the idea that it is the "traditional" version of marriage. Okay, it's traditional. So fucking what? There are lots of traditions that aren't worth defending (like, for example, the tradition of only white men leading the country, ahem), and the idea that just because something's traditional sets it beyond criticism is anathema to progressivism.

It's hope and change, remember, Mr. President?

Further, the administration argued that rescinding DOMA would "obligate federal taxpayers in other states to subsidize a form of marriage their own states do not recognize," never mind that the suggestion, in addition to its cruel and absurd contention that the denial of civil rights is a great penny-saver, is patent malarkey: As HRC president Joe Solmonese says: "Same-sex couples and their families … pay taxes equally, contribute to our communities equally, support each other equally, pay equally into Social Security, and participate equally in our democracy. Equal protection is not a handout; it is our right as citizens."

Pish tosh! Sayeth the brief:
"This policy of neutrality maximizes state autonomy and democratic self-governance in an area of traditional state concern, and preserves scarce government resources. It is thus entirely rational."
I didn't realize Eric Holder was a Vulcan!

See, here's the thing: Maybe the discussion of marriage shouldn't be so goddamned rational. Maybe it should be a little less "maximizing state autonomy and democratic self-governance" and a little more "pursuit of happiness," maybe a little less "scarce government resources" and a little more "abundant love."

Love is not rational. Love is wild and expansive and reckless and unpredictable, and it is one of humankind's greatest achievements—a capacity unique in its magnificence, a radiating splendor which can only be dimmed by the injurious refusal to regard as equal the love between partners on the basis of details that love itself transcends.

To deny love's existence, and equality, in every human heart is to reject our common humanity. We are thus all diminished by anything less than full-throated support for marriage equality, because buried below all the Very Fancy and Very Rational legal defenses of the continued disparity is simply an indefensible avowal that all love is not the same.

There are those who will argue (and have argued, and will continue to argue) that the Justice Department's brief is just a technical legal exercise, to which I will direct you to Pam's post in response. And/or there are those who will argue (and have argued, and will continue to argue) that Obama can't spend the political capital right now, because the economy or healthcare or climate change or the wars or this or that is more important, too important to risk multitasking on an important civil rights issue at the same time—so they play Wait Your Turn and kick the can down the road, as if every other pressing issue will soon be solved, as if midterms won't be yet another convenient excuse, and after that, re-election.

There will always be reasons for Obama not to take up this fight. And progress—real, demonstrable, material, life-changing, practical progress—is never easy. But, as someone once said, "the true genius of America [is] that America can change. Our union can be perfected. And what we have already achieved gives us hope for what we can and must achieve tomorrow. … This is our chance to answer that call. This is our moment. This is our time … to reclaim the American Dream and reaffirm that fundamental truth – that out of many, we are one; that while we breathe, we hope, and where we are met with cynicism, and doubt, and those who tell us that we can't, we will respond with that timeless creed that sums up the spirit of a people: Yes We Can."

Yes we can, Mr. President. Can you?

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