Religious implications of N.Y. federal appeals court striking down DOMA

AP Edith Windsor, center, is interviewed at the offices of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in New York, on … Continued


Edith Windsor, center, is interviewed at the offices of the New York Civil Liberties Union, in New York, on Oct. 18, 2012. A federal appeals court in Manhattan has become the second in the nation to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. The ruling came in a case brought by Windsor.

This November, four states will be voting on marriage. Maine, Maryland, Washington and Minnesota all have ballot initiatives that will either ban or allow marriage equality for all their citizens. In Minnesota, voters will decide whether to amend the state constitution to prevent gay and lesbian citizens from entering into marriage. Maine, Maryland and Washington will ask their citizens to vote on legislation that has already passed through the legislature and been signed into law to allow all citizens access to the institution of marriage and the protections that come with that institution. Interestingly, all of these votes will come just weeks after the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

The case involves Edie Windsor, a New York woman who challenged the federal government to recognize her New York-based marriage. In its decision, the court found Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional. Section 3 requires the federal government to treat legally married same-sex couples as single.

The question of marriage equality has both civil and religious implications. In fact, the majority decision by the Second Circuit Courts of Appeal is evidence of this. The decision states that: “[…] law (federal or state) is not concerned with holy matrimony. Government deals with marriage as a civil status–however fundamental–and New York has elected to extend that status to same-sex couples. A state may enforce and dissolve a couple’s marriage, but it cannot sanctify or bless it. For that, the pair must go next door.” (Windsor v. United States)

For religious institutions, the decision of the court reinforces that they will be free to act according to their own beliefs and theologies. The appeals court does more than just uphold lower courts decisions on the unconstitutionality of DOMA, it also upholds the right of every individual to exercise their religion as they see fit. Moreover, contrary to what anti-marriage equality organizations have tried to portray, decisions like this are clear examples of the freedoms and liberties religious organizations have in the United States. This case demonstrates that the civil institution of marriage has nothing to do with the religious rite of holy matrimony.

There is another important factor in Thursday’s court decision on the unconstitutionality of DOMA. Namely, when voters pass a law or a constitutional amendment to strip citizens of their rights, the US government, with its system of checks and balances, has the means to protect those whose rights have been taken from them. This is one of the many reasons why state initiatives to deny others their rights – in this case, the right to marry – are bound to fail at the end. As the anti-equality arguments used to pass such measures are held up to the rational scrutiny of our court system, they fall apart. As the Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. once said, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Elsewhere I wrote about the imaginary “threat” to religious freedom should the states allow marriage equality. The decision by the appeals court Thursday makes it clear that this threat is nonexistent. Voters can pass a thousand amendments to their constitutions or block every legislative action to allow same-sex couples the protections afforded to all other families, but they cannot stop the holy actions of faithful religious communities that will continue to bless these marriages and their families. What these anti-equality groups do is spend millions of dollars in campaigns that eventually fail the test of history. In a generation from now such actions be seen with the same shame in which we look at miscegenation laws of the past.

The Second Appeals Court decision Thursday, like all the court decisions before it, has demonstrated that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act neither defends marriage nor strengthens it. Rather, what DOMA does is to prevent loving, committed couples from enjoying the protections that millions of other families have. Moreover, DOMA attempts to prevent thousands of clergy around the nation from providing the same pastoral care to all of our parishioners. The court decision makes clear that, under the law and the Constitution, we all ought to have the same rights and responsibilities. As a member of the clergy, I know that is good news.

The Rev. J. Manny Santiago is pastor of University Baptist Church in Seattle

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  • LWC

    What is really sad is that the author of this article claims to be a pastor of Christ, when one who promotes abominations is really a follower of Satan.

  • tidelandermdva

    DOMA has no intersection with religious concerns. It deals only with civil functions. I like the distinction between Holy Matrimony and legal marriage. All marriage is legal, civil marriage, but not all marriage is Holy Matrimony.
    Is all Holy Matrimony legal marriage? Is a hippie “soul marriage” Holy Matrimony? Is a fundementalist Mormon multiple marriage Holy Matrimony?

  • IntellectOne

    Nobody has the ‘Right’ to Redefine the word Marriage. Words have meaning and Marriage means a union between one man and one woman. No court has the ‘Right’ to change the word and confuse children and deny children the Truth that they have a Father and a Mother. Family=Father, Mother, Child.

  • revruthucc

    This is an excellent clarification, one I wish I didn’t have to make so often…but the state of constitutional education in America has gone from mediocre to horrible in the last 30 years so people just don’t get the whole separation of church and state concept.

    On that note, I am leaning toward advocating for a complete separation of church and state here. Let the state license and record any marriage between two consenting adults who wish to have legal standing and protection and let those who wish to have a religious ceremony/sacrament do so at church without us pastors/priests/rabbis/imams having any right or authority to sign a legally binding document. Have both? Terrific! You get legal privileges and the blessings of God. Go to the courthouse but not church/synagogue/mosque? Equally terrific, enjoy the tax deductions and other privileges of a legally recorded union. Skip the courthouse and just have the religious ceremony? Equally terrific, just don’t whine when you don’t have legal privileges. European model, good solution.

  • IntellectOne

    The Defense of Marriage Act defines and describes exactly what the word marriage means. It Defines the word Marriage. Words have meanings and Marriage means the union between one man and one woman.
    This panel of (3) judges are wrong. Three judges are saying that the Legislators, with an over-whelming ‘Bipartisan Vote’ , passed an Unconstitutional Law? ,

  • IntellectOne

    This has nothing to do with Separation of Church and State. But everything to do with the Redefinition of Marriage.
    What is wrong with a contract or affidavit between the two people to give permission to handle each others business affairs? They can have a Civil Contract between the two, three or what ever……

  • itsthedax

    Yes, that’s exactly what it means. The reason we have an independent judiciary is to act as a check on the other branches of government, and keep them from enacting unconstitutional laws.

  • nmtucson

    Actually, courts redefine words all the time, as does society at large. That’s how language works–it *reflects* opinion and behavior, it does not dictate it. This does not confuse children. It might irritate or embarrass those who have a vested interest in the former meaning, but that, as noted in the decision, is not enough to keep from adjusting society’s opinion about the rationality of a concept that applies to all. Civil marriage is just that–civil. Religion doesn’t have to consider same-sex marriage as holy. But religion does not have the right to define civil concepts–these are two separate realms. That is the single most glorious strength of this country, in my opinion. Embrace the freedom of religion that this implies, and grant the freedom *from* religion that it requires.

  • itsthedax

    So the Second Circuit Court of Appeals has determined that the government cannot selectively remove the rights of a minority group of citizens.

    What do you know? The system works!

  • Catken1

    And laws that defined “citizen” and gave it a meaning that restricted it to “white male” were likewise unconstitutional. Words have meanings, yes, but in this country, we may not demand that our personal definition of a word be used to exclude other equal citizens from participation in a civil contract.

  • Catken1

    “This has nothing to do with Separation of Church and State. But everything to do with the Redefinition of Marriage. ”

    Yes, we are and have been redefining marriage as a matter of a loving union between two equal consenting adults who wish to solemnize their relationship, rather than a property arrangement giving a man ownership rights in a woman and her body and property, or, as you would favor, a union between two sets of genitals with unimportant and interchangeable people involved, for breeding purposes.
    What is wrong with such a contract as you propose is that it does not treat all citizens as equals, nor does it give the same rights as marriage does.

    What is wrong with living your definition of marriage in your private life, and keeping your busybody nose out of other people’s families? Must you dictate how everyone else must live in order to “protect” your own choices? Do you really need a special pat on the back from government, telling you you’re better than people who choose a loving spouse with the same genitals as themselves, and deserve more privileges than they have, to feel good about your own marital choices?

  • Catken1

    “Nobody has the ‘Right’ to Redefine the word Marriage

    Waaah! It’s MY word! MY institution! _I_ get to dictate to everyone what it means, and no one may ever ever change MY meaning of MY word or even interpret it differently! Marriage belongs to ME ME ME and it is MY sole privilege to tell everyone else who they can marry and how they should run their families!

    Arrogance, pure and simple. And ignorance.

    Humans redefine words, and institutions, all the time. We’ve redefined “marriage” countless times, in particular over the past hundred years, in ways that make the current proposed change look insignificantly teeny. Our hallmark as a species is not, in fact, blind clinging to “tradition” and the inability to vary our meanings or our societal institutions, but in fact the precise opposite – we are flexible, adaptable, and quite free to rearrange our cultures and our cultural institutions to suit our society’s individual needs.

    Like it or not, our society no longer has a major interest in pushing everyone, willy-nilly, into breeding children, nor does it have a major interest in pressuring everyone to adhere to assigned sex roles with respect to families or tasks, rather than going by individual talent and inclination. The current definition of marriage, as an egalitarian union of two individuals who wish to commit to each other for life and take on certain rights and responsibilities for each other, is much better suited to our society’s needs than your proposed definition of union restricted by breeding ability (unless you’re hetero and infertile) and by genitals.

    “No court has the ‘Right’ to change the word and confuse children and deny children the Truth that they have a Father and a Mother. Family=Father, Mother, Child.”

    So kids who are being raised by single parents, adoptive parents, step-parents and gay parents aren’t in a “family”? They don’t have the same need for, or else don’t deserve married parents and legally protected families, as other kids do?

    Human famili

  • Catken1

    Poor dear, are you persecuted by living in a country where you have to allow people NOT to follow your religion, even to do things your religion defines as “abomination?”
    Maybe America isn’t for you. Maybe you ought to go found a nice theocracy where you can tell everybody else how to live and make everyone else adhere to your religion. But this isn’t the place.

  • amelia45

    Given all the comments about the horror of redefining the word “marriage” from its ancient meaning, perhaps what we need to do is simply change the wording in state and federal laws. All mention of “marry” or “marriage” would be replaced with the words “civil union.”

    It is not such a far fetched idea. Other countries do this so that religious beliefs are not impacted by legal definitions. Religions can bestow marriage blessings but only a civil union can bestow civil benefits.

    It keeps the jelly out of the peanut butter jar.

  • Catken1

    Great, so what are you going to do when some atheist or agnostic has the gall to use the word “marriage” to describe their civil union?
    Marriage belongs as much to the secular government as to religion. And marriage has been redefined over and over again so much and so often that its first “ancient meaning” is completely lost to time.

  • XVIIHailSkins

    “On religious issues there can be little or no compromise. There is no position on which people are so immovable as their religious beliefs. There is no more powerful ally one can claim in a debate than Jesus Christ, or God, or Allah, or whatever one calls this supreme being. But like any powerful weapon, the use of God’s name on one’s behalf should be used sparingly. The religious factions that are growing throughout our land are not using their religious clout with wisdom. They are trying to force government leaders into following their position 100 percent. If you disagree with these religious groups on a particular moral issue, they complain, they threaten you with a loss of money or votes or both.”

    “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

    – Barry Goldwater, hero of American conservatism

  • csintala79

    The characteristics of marriage are culturally determined. To a Christian, marriage is the uniting of two souls into one. This is not the case for Islam, other relgions or cultures. Also it is not the case for all secularists (what marriage is for a secularist is self determined). There is nothing working now to deny the religious from sanctifying marriage according to to their beliefs; tehre is no legislation pending that would requie a religious group to marry homosexuals. It is conservative Christians, as is true regarding otehr subjects, taht are actively working to surpress religious liberty.

  • itsthedax

    The simple fact is that every marriage performed in this country is, and has been, a civil union. Every priest, rabbi, minister, judge and justice of the peace performs marriages under the authority of the state in which they’re working. If you don’t believe me, check your marriage license. And a married couple have rights, tax status, next-of-kin status and other legal differences than non-married couples.

    So, the circuit court has – rightly – determined that the government cannot isolate one minority group of citizens and deny them the same right that is allowed the other 97 percent of us.

    The homophobes are just going to have to cope with it.

  • Pete Lass

    Ephesians 5:31
    New International Version (NIV)
    31 “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”

    Seems to be a man and a woman who join together, the two becomining one flesh i.e. a child is a marriage of a man’s DNA with a woman’s DNA creating one flesh.

    This is coming from a gay man who is only attracted to women, don’t any of use say I am not gay as I have a equal right to this type of stupidity as well.

  • Catken1

    Biblical quotes don’t have any relevance to civil law.
    Nor have we ever required physical procreation for marriage.
    And children being raised by gay people deserve the same legal protections and the same security for their families as other kids, even if they aren’t of the same “flesh” as both their parents. Breeding is the least important part of childrearing, and the one marriage has the least effect on.

  • amelia45

    This is well done and very, very right. Well, not politically “right” but right for our democracy.

    Religious freedom is as much at risk for those faiths that do believe that gay marriage is marriage, as it is for those who do not believe it.

    Democracy provides a framework for both faiths to practice their faith within the confines of their faith. However, when we move into the public world, the world that is shared by those of all faiths, we have to have some limits on what one faith can require of another. And, as we learned in the Civil Rights Movement, we must have some limits on how far an individual can impose his views in the public sphere.

    This is all about finding ground where religion can co-exist with democracy. DOMA was a mis-step that needs to be corrected.


    In the end, this will make it to the Supreme Court which will rule by way of our supreme law, the Constitution which is for WE THE PEOPLE where as no one can take a right from a American.


    Freedom of religion is for the American citizen . Religion is not part of the American government. No person, business or religion can take a right from any American citizen. The end product on this matter will come from the Supreme Court which will be based on the supreme law, the Constitution.

  • leibowde84

    Courts redefine words all the time. Remember when the Supreme Court defined the word “men” (in the US constitution and the Declaration of Independence) to exclude any men that were from African decent? That certainly isn’t the way we define the term now. This decision is a step toward progress.

  • leibowde84

    This is a great decision that finally separates two completely unassociated terms – “legal marriage” and “holy matrimony.” Due to our Constitution, the two must always be separated. Further, it is ridiculous to think that a court would ever be OK with taking away a right from a class of people for absolutely no logical reason. Faith should always take a side-seat to reason, and no right should ever be taken away from any citizen simply because of the belief held by few that the term “legal marriage” is unchangeable. Ever term is fair game for redefining … it is the concept that fuels societal progression.

  • leibowde84

    Yeah. What the hell does the bible have to do with a court decision. We aren’t talking about a religious term, we are talking about a legal term. Legal terms are always up for interpretation. Without that fact, we would be living in a very destructive society.

  • leibowde84

    That is a great quote.

  • leibowde84

    “Mark my word, if and when these preachers get control of the party, and they’re sure trying to do so, it’s going to be a terrible damn problem. Frankly, these people frighten me. Politics and governing demand compromise. But these Christians believe they are acting in the name of God, so they can’t and won’t compromise. I know, I’ve tried to deal with them.”

    – Barry Goldwater

  • leibowde84

    Chances are, if you think you are doing “God’s work” you are probably wrong. Religious doctrine should constantly be questioned. Vatican II was right!!

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    And so Heather can have 2 Mommies in marriage. Can little Tommy have 6 Daddies, all Sodimites, a turnip, 3 beasts of the field, and a human cadaver as parents all in US Supreme Court authorized Holy Matrimony? Why not??? Marriage made into Matrimony and made Holy by justiciability over what is Holy, and what is marriage and how many, and of what variety?

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    In civil government totalitarianism the totality of all of life lies within the purview of the top totalitarian of civil government. Marriage is what your Glorious Leaders say it is, and no more and no less. And you are what Glorious Leaders say you are, and no more and no less.

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    New Think is Good Think. Old Think is Bad Think. No think is New Think is Good Think. Think Think is Old Think is Bad think. Guv’mint Think is No Think is New Think is Good Think. Individual Think is Think Think is Old Think is Bad Think.
    Bad Think is Evil Think. Bad Think is Hate Think. Hate Think is Capitol Crime Think.

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    The logical reason is the destruction of the family. The family being the basic socail block of society and the basic social block of civilization and of civil government. If it isn’t, then destroy the family units and all will still be well. Have civil government seize all children, destroy the family units and raise the Guv’mint s children as Revolutionary Cadres of the Hitler Youth and Hitler Maidens and the civilization will remain unchanged and perhaps improved. It is logical nes pas?

  • Dixie Suzan Davis

    leibowde84 – This is just for you.
    Quote—Ever term is fair game for redefining … it is the concept that fuels societal progression—
    Biblical thought on redefining words as is politically expedient.
    Isaiah 5:20 —Woe to those who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter.–

    And so now Sodomite marriage is not evil but good. Holy Matrimony is not good, but now it is evil.

    And woe unto you leibowde84 for supporting it.

  • Catken1

    Ah, yes, it is totalitarian tyranny for government to no longer tell you what people you may marry based solely on what genitals you have. Government dictates the meaning and purpose of your marriage by not dictating the meaning and purpose of marriage.

    By the same logic, government is moving towards totalitarian tyranny every time they expand voting rights, since giving you a choice is government telling you what to do. Right?

  • Catken1

    Oh, look, another anti-gay person preening herself on superior morality when she doesn’t have enough moral judgment to understand why informed adult consent is necessary for either a sexual relationship or a legal contract.
    If you can’t tell the difference between a loving, but nontraditional marriage between two consenting adults, and the rape of an animal, a child, or an inanimate object, then you have no business preaching your superior morality to the rest of us, because you have none. If your only guide to what is right and what is wrong is “tradition,” then you have not the moral judgment to be a free adult in a civilized society. And if you need government to tell you what your marriage should be like, if you need a government pat on the back and special government-granted privileges to make your marriage “Holy”, then you’re not capable enough of taking personal responsibility and should not be allowed entry into an adult relationship like marriage.

  • Catken1

    “The logical reason is the destruction of the family. ”

    And destroying gay families preserves hetero families how?

    You’re the ones seeking to destroy other people’s marriages and families, take their kids away, and make their lives harder, not us. You’re the one seeking to have government dictate what family units are acceptable and which are not, not us. You’re the ones seeking more government control over our marital choices, not us. And you’re the ones who don’t value marriage enough to take responsibility for cherishing it and living it according to your values without getting special government favoritism for doing so.

    “Holy Matrimony is not good, but now it is evil. ”

    Allowing marriages that do not comply with your religion’s doctrine is not the same thing as saying that those that do comply are evil. And if your religious beliefs will wither and die if government doesn’t give you special favors for following them, they aren’t worth promoting.

  • Catken1

    Wah, wah, wah, people aren’t doing as I tell them, so the world is going to H-e-double hockey sticks.
    Go ahead, throw your tantrums. The days of being able to tell everyone else how to think, how to live, and how to run their families are over.

  • dcrswm

    Dixie, you are like a little pebble in a tin can, not much in there, but you sure make a lot of noise.

  • gjudkowski

    “Nobody has the ‘Right’ to Redefine the word Marriage” – Nobody is attempting to redefine the word “marriage.” As far as state/federal goverment is concerned, marriage is a civil union between two people. There is the religous rite of holy matriomny, and the court’s “decision reinforces that [relgious institutions] will be free to act according to their own beliefs and theologies.” But once again, as far as the goverment is concerneced, marriage is a civil untion between two people. The “state may enforce and dissolve a couple’s marriage, but it cannot sanctify or bless it,” further cliarfing there is a distinct sepearation between how the church views marriage and how the state veiws it. A church should be within their rights to deny performing a homosexual marriage, but any two people should be able to go to the courthouse and be married.