Legally eligible to apply for marriage licenses Wednesday (March 3), gay couples flocked to the District of Columbia’s Marriage Bureau to partake in marriage ceremonies on Tuesday (March 9). With another part of the country sanctioning gay marriage, the Full Faith and Credit Clause comes into play, determining whether other states are obligated to recognize gay marriages.
The District’s gay marriages result from a city council act initially sealed on December 3, 2009. Gay couples are now allowed to marry in accordance with the Religious Freedom and Civil Marriage Equality Amendment Act of 2009.
The council passed the act by an 11-2 vote, with members Marion Berry (D-Ward 8) and Yvette Alexander (D-Ward 7) dissenting. Mayor Adrian Fenty’s signature made the act official, solidifying his promise to eventually sign the bill.
The House Committee overseeing the District’s affairs and the Supreme Court both refused to ultimately challenge the council’s bill, clearing major road blocks necessary for its passage.
The District of Columbia follows New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut and Vermont in sanctioning marriage for gays. In other parts of the country, gay marriage advocates faced tough defeats in states like California, New York, Maine and Texas.
The city council’s move toward permitting gay marriage has been a gradual one. In the past, the Council has allowed domestic partnerships and the recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states.
With the District legalizing gay marriage, the initial marriage application fee is waived for those already classified as domestic partners, according to the DC Marriage Bureau’s website.
At the federal level, gay marriage is currently not recognized per the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which then President Bill Clinton signed into law, defining marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman.
In Sec. 3 of DOMA, the federal definition of marriage applies in the ‘meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States.’
At the state level, however, it is a different story. State legislators and courts ultimately decide whether to recognize the validity of gay marriage.
One example is in the state of Maryland where Atty. Gen. Douglas F. Gansler announced that Maryland will recognize gay marriages until the state’s legislators and courts weigh in on the matter.
According to The Washington Post (Feb. 26), Gansler’s decision came one week before the new DC marriage act took effect. The Post noted that the Maryland state legislature back in 2004 declared that the state would not recognize same-sex unions.
Gansler said that he did not adhere to the Maryland legislature’s previous decision because of the abundance of legislation implemented concerning same sex unions since then.
‘We spent an enormous amount of time on this opinion because it’s really new ground,’ he said,” the Post quoted Gansler.
Another aspect of gay marriage at the state level is whether non-sanctioning states are obligated to recognize legally married gays.
The question comes up via the Full Faith and Credit Clause in Article 4 Sec. 1 of the U.S. Constitution.
It states that ‘Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the Public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State. And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the effect thereof.’
On the one hand, the matter is subjected to constitutional interpretation and debate across the political spectrum.
On the other hand, Sec. 1738C of DOMA implies that states are not required to recognize gay marriages if a state’s own laws do not sanction them.
`No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship,’ it states.