Universal Life Church, equal rights, marriage equality, DOMA

Religious freedom allows clergy who believe in marriage equality to practice their faith unhindered

The United States Defense of Marriage Act—which discriminates against same-sex couples—violates the U.S. Constitution and should therefore be repealed, the White House has told the United States Supreme Court. While the Universal Life Church Monastery avoids making political endorsements, its ministers ordained online do stand up for the sacerdotal rights of all ministers, many of whom support marriage equality. Striking down DOMA would mean equal treatment of all clergy.

The Obama administration filed the brief on Friday, 22 February, arguing that the law should be struck down because it violated “the fundamental guarantee of equal protection”. The law, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for the purpose of federal recognition, was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton on 21 September 1996. Under the law, the federal government may grant marriage benefits (such as Social Security benefits, equal treatment under the IRS tax code, and immigration rights) to heterosexual marriages, but not to homosexual ones. Consequently, ministers who perform same-sex weddings, including many ministers ordained online, are getting the short end of the stick under DOMA.

Solicitor General Donald Verrilli argues in the brief that Section 3 of the law deserves the Supreme Court’s close scrutiny because it places unfair conditions on receiving federal marriage benefits: “The law denies to tens of thousands of same-sex couples who are legally married under state law an array of important federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex couples. Because this discrimination cannot be justified as substantially furthering any important governmental interest, Section 3 is unconstitutional.” By inference, then, the law also denies equal recognition of those who become ordained ministers online to marry their gay and lesbian friends and family members, preferring to recognize marriages solemnized by orthodox religious groups.

supreme court, ULC

The Obama Administration has officially asked the Supreme Court to repeal DOMA

Verrilli wrapped up his argument by citing the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution, which protects against government abuse of power in legal proceedings. Highlighting the guarantee of equal protection mentioned in the Amendment, he wrote, “Section 3 of DOMA targets the many gay and lesbian people legally married under state law for a harsh form of discrimination that bears no relation to their ability to contribute to society. It is abundantly clear that this discrimination does not substantially advance an interest in protecting marriage, or any other important interest. The statute simply cannot be reconciled with the Fifth Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection. The Constitution therefore requires that Section 3 be invalidated.” However, if the Fifth Amendment guarantees the equal rights of gays and lesbians married in their state, it could also be argued that it guarantees the equal sacerdotal rights of clergy—such as Universal Life Church ministers—recognized as legally ordained in their state.

Laws like DOMA not only violate the equal rights of same-sex couples—they potentially also violate the equal rights of the ministers who marry them. When the U.S. federal government discriminates against gay and lesbian marriages, it also discriminates against the ministers who solemnize these marriages. As it happens, many of these ministers get ordained online in organizations like the Universal Life Church, which means that, indirectly, DOMA impinges on the legal equality of Universal Life Church ministers, too.


The Huffington Post

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