President Obama in Washington D.C. yesterday after his historic declaration. (Photo by …
Yesterday was a historic day for the country. President Obama declared the "Defense of Marriage Act" unconstitutional. The federal law has made all state sanctioned same-sex marriages illegal on a national level since it was instituted in 1996. Now the president and the attorney general Eric Holder have concluded that "classifications based on sexual orientation" are grounds for discrimination. While it's up to the courts to decide on a final verdict for the constitutionality of the law, it's a huge deal for same-sex couples and the country. Here's why:
1. Calling an existing law unconstitutional is a landmark move for any administration to make according to the New Yorker's legal expert, Jeffery Toobin. It's rare for a president to refuse to defend a law that's already in place.
2. It shows which direction President Obama's "evolving" opinion on same-sex marriages is heading. He's officially in favor of civil unions, but Toobin writes it's a sign "the President will officially change his position and endorse the right of same-sex couples to get married."
3. It's a major step towards national cultural acceptance of gay and lesbian lifestyles. Obama and Holder hold firm that the same level of scrutiny should be held to the rights of gay people as are held to women. In other words, gender and sexual orientation are on equal grounds for protection against discrimination.
4. It could also impact citizenship and adoption laws, making it easier for same-sex couples to legally stay in the country or adopt a child. The justice system and the administration may now look at other laws that discriminate against same-sex couples and reconsider their constitutionality. Already, one inane legal loophole has been changed: Last month, same-sex couples were granted the right to be each other's next of kin in a hospital. Prior to January, couples weren't always allowed to be there for their partners since they weren't legally considered family.5. The administration will stop using the law to defend against individual lawsuits. One in particular was filed by Edith Windsor, a woman forced to pay a $350,000 estate tax on her deceased partner's inheritance. Since her state sanctioned marriage was overturned on a federal level, she wasn't afforded the same tax rights as other married couples when she lost her wife. Obama's declaration may have an impact on the Supreme Court's decision in her case. "I don't know what it means in terms of what follows. But the very fact that the President and the Department of Justice are making such a statement is mind-blowing to anybody gay or anybody who is related to anybody gay," Windsor told the New York Times. "I think it removes a great deal of the stigma. It's just great."