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Federal debate over gay marriage close to home, complicated topic

With discussions of both the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Proposition 8 in the Supreme Court, it may seem that most stand in solidarity with a side of the argument, but to some, the issue of marriage equality is not so simple.

Since 1996 when DOMA was enacted, the federal government has defined marriage to be between a man and a woman. But with nine states passing marriage equality bills in recent years, “non-traditional” couples in select states have been able to enjoy the 1,100 federal benefits to marriage.

“The way the system is structured there are a lot of legal issues that come to marriage,” said Nate Kelly, a senior studying political science and member of Students for Liberty. “Marriage is going to play a big role in a lot of things like hospital visitation and government benefits, but they are denying a large amount of people these rights. That’s a huge issue here.”

Because of the lack of federal allowance for same-sex marriage, about 93 percent of the 646,000 LGBT couples in the United States would not be given the benefits of a “traditional” marriage. Kelly said this focus on marriage is a catch-22 of the government.

“The way society is structured, we are tilted towards marriage,” he said. “The system is tilted on some level because I think marriage is important in some ways. But on a personal level, I don’t need a government document telling me that I love this person. It’s a very personal thing, and it’s kind of strange that the federal government is involved at all.”

This discussion about “redefining marriage” and its benefits came into focus just in time, said Jason Armstrong, an Athens resident who identifies as queer.

“Marriage is antiquated; it is a tradition,” he said. “Thus, if one personally holds traditions to be important, then marriage could definitely be important. It certainly is to me.”

For some, the marriage equality fight is an issue that takes the focus away from larger problems, said Gino Anello, a sophomore studying philosophy.

“While there are heartbreaking stories about gay men and women getting screwed over because they are not considered married, no gay man or woman is facing prison time for being gay,” he said. “The amount of hard prison time low-level drug users face in my opinion outweighs not being able to be married. Still, gay marriage is an unnecessary ban that I would love to see changed. I just wouldn’t argue that it is the most important issue facing us today.”

Despite arguments about the validity and utility of marriage, federal recognition of marriage is something that should be an option to any consenting adults who wish to be married, Armstrong said.

“Federal recognition of same-sex marriages is very important for many reasons, from showing the youth that all are equal and none need be ostracized, to certain federal benefits these couples deserve to have,” he said. “Most importantly, it is a right that every American citizen deserves to have. LGBTQ people are not second-class citizens and should not be treated as such.”

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