Congress considers empowering states to determine definition of marriage.
Lawmakers in Washington, D.C., have introduced bills bolstering the ability of individual states to declare what they will and will not recognize as a marriage and enforce that definition within state boundaries.
The State Marriage Defense Act of 2014 declares that in a given state, the term marriage will “not include any relationship which that State, territory, or possession does not recognize as a marriage, and the term ‘spouse’ shall not include an individual who is a party to a relationship that is not recognized as a marriage by that State, territory, or possession.”
The bill was introduced Feb. 14 by Senators Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and Mike Lee (R-Utah) in the Senate, and Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas) in the House of Representatives.
It comes in response to February statements by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who announced that the federal government will enforce the Supreme Court’s June 2013 ruling on a federal definition of marriage.
The high court’s ruling overturned parts of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, saying that rather than defining marriage at the federal level, the federal government must simply accept the unions recognized as marriages in each state.
Holder stated that the Department of Justice will “not use state views as a basis to object to someone in a same-sex marriage” invoking rights to a variety of spousal benefits, even in “states where same-sex marriages are not recognized.”
Holder has also chosen to recognize marriage licenses given to same-sex couples in Utah during a short period in January 2014. The licenses were issued in response to a district judge’s order that “gay marriage” be recognized in the state. However, the Supreme Court then decided to halt the issuing of same-sex “marriage” licenses in Utah while the lower judge’s decision is undergoing appeal.
This joins a string of recent state-level judicial debates over whether states can set their own definitions for marriage.
In its 2013 ruling, the Supreme Court left it up to individual states to define marriage as they see fit. The court said the federal government must recognize the unions that are recognized in each state.
However, the Supreme Court’s ruling has been invoked several times as justification for rejecting state laws defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.
In Virginia, a federal court recently struck down a voter-approved constitutional amendment defining marriage as the union of man and woman, while Nevada has announced that it will no longer defend its ban on same-sex “marriage.”
In addition, a federal judge ruled Feb. 12 that Kentucky must recognize same-sex “marriages” granted by other states, despite the fact that Kentucky defines marriage as existing between only a man and a woman.
The State Marriage Defense Act would fight against rulings such as that in Kentucky, requiring “respect for State regulation of marriage” throughout the country and affirming states’ rights to define marriage within their borders.