The U.S. has made great strides in the area of civil rights. Over the past 100 years, numerous laws have been passed to protect citizens from discrimination based on religion, sex, race, age, disability and veteran status. These laws include the 19th amendment to the Constitution, the Equal Pay Act of 1963, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, the American with Disabilities Act of 1990, and the Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act of 1994. These laws have been critical to our success in preventing discrimination, ensuring equal protection, and providing meaningful citizenship to all Americans.
However, our work is not done. There is one group of Americans that continues to face discrimination: the gay and lesbian community. Discrimination occurs at both the state and federal level, and there are two core discriminatory issues: 1) marital status, and 2) benefits. First, at the state level, lesbians and gays cannot get married in Maryland because same sex marriage is not legal. This needs to be changed in the upcoming legislative session. Gov. Martin O'Malley and the state legislature need to pass same sex marriage.
Second, at the federal level, the definition of marriage and marriage related benefits is discriminatory. The federal law, The Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, erroneously defines marriage as between a man and woman. This is significant because in refusing to recognize same sex marriage, federal rights and benefits such as Social Security are denied to same sex partners. Furthermore, private sector benefits for same sex partners are taxable by the federal government and must be reported as income. In comparison, benefits for heterosexual couples are not taxed. This law is discriminatory and needs to be repealed. If we are to offer all Americans equal and meaningful citizenship, then we must overturn DOMA.