The Justice Department continues to land on the right side of history by extending more federal benefits to same-sex married couples. The department's latest decision outlined in a memo released Monday further accepts gay couples as full members of society who, along with their families, deserve the same protections and rights given to heterosexual couples. But where the federal government springs forward, Florida remains stuck. A 2008 constitutional amendment bans same-sex marriage, and sooner rather than later Florida voters or the courts will have to correct that legalized discrimination.
Attorney General Eric Holder's memo calls for same-sex married couples to be able to enjoy the same protections, rights and privileges as their heterosexual counterparts at the federal level. In bankruptcy courts, for example, same-sex couples can now file jointly, and domestic support obligations such as alimony to former same-sex spouses can be enforced and upheld. The new policy also provides for the surviving spouse of a public safety officer, such as a firefighter or a law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty, to be eligible for death benefits. The policy extends to federal prisons, where incarcerated same-sex spouses may now receive spousal visitation, permission to attend a spouse's funeral or to be furloughed at times of a spouse's crisis.
The policy shift comes as the country's views on same-sex marriage are quickly evolving for the better. Last summer, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a move that forced the federal government to recognize legal same-sex marriages. And 17 states and the District of Columbia now recognize same-sex marriages. While pitched battles about same-sex marriage rage in some places such as Utah, other states are expected to legalize gay marriage as more Americans see the fight as one that centers on civil rights rather than religion. Yet Florida's Constitution declares that marriage is between one man and one woman. A movement is afoot to revisit the issue. Earlier this year, six same-sex couples filed suit against the state for their inability to marry here, and same-sex marriage advocacy groups plan a challenge at the ballot box at some point. The sooner Florida is able to move forward rather than remain stuck in the discriminatory past, the better.
This nation's founders envisioned a nation steeped in freedom and equal rights even as they excluded large groups of people in their initial declarations. But throughout history, well-intentioned citizens have extended those rights through campaigns to end slavery, the women's suffrage movement and the civil rights movement. Then, as now, the federal government led the way forward. Eventually states complied, but not without impassioned opposition. Today, those who truly believe in equality for all should examine how Florida's laws and constitutional ban on same-sex marriage square with that belief. Reasonable Floridians will recognize the state's position is not defensible and help build the case for change.