The Rev. Rob Apgar-Taylor, pastor of Veritas United Church of Christ, lives in Hagerstown with his husband, but despite the state of Maryland voting to legalize same-sex marriage in November, he and his spouse still do not have access to any federal benefits, and he has to file his taxes as a single man due to the 1996 Federal Defense of Marriage Act.
“What people don’t realize is there are almost 1,100 tax benefits that aren’t granted to same-sex couples that are granted to married couple that are of different genders,” he said. “When I die, my husband will not receive any Social Security benefits at all, and when I die or he dies before me, the person who is left will have to pay inheritance tax.”
One case revolves around a section of DOMA that denies legally married couples of the same sex federal benefits that are allowed to straight married couples. The other revolves around Proposition 8 in California, which bans same-sex marriage in the state.
Apgar-Taylor rejected the religious arguments against same-sex marriages and compared them to traditional marriages in the U.S.
“In a world where I can get drunk and get married in front of an Elvis impersonator in Las Vegas to someone I’ve met 12 hours before, as long as that person is a woman, nobody has a problem ... tell me that what I’m doing with my husband degrades marriage,” he said. “There’s nothing that he and I could possibly do in our relationship that could degrade marriage more than heterosexuals have already done.”
Samuel Findley, pastor of Trinity Full Gospel Church on the West End of Hagerstown, said that he thinks the federal government should stay out of gay marriage.
He added that he is against it personally.
“I’m a Bible man, and I know the Bible is against same-sex marriage, so I’m not for it,” he said.
On the issue of Proposition 8 in California, if the Supreme Court ruled to uphold it, then it would be declaring that gay marriage is not a constitutional right, according to published reports. The justices could also strike it down as unconstitutional or dismiss the appeal, which would legalize same-sex marriage in California, or they could rule banning gay marriage unconstitutional, which could legalize gay marriage nationwide.
One of the central issues is whether or not the 14th amendment and the Equal Protection Clause apply to gay couples’ rights to marry.
Specifically in question with regard to the right for gays to marry is the portion of the 14th Amendment that says, “No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.”
University of Maryland at College Park Constitutional History Associate Professor Michael Ross said that the answer depends on whether or not the Constitution should be interpreted as a living document or as the framers intended it when writing it, a debate that exists even among the justices.
“Clearly, the framers of the 14th Amendment were not thinking of gay marriage when they wrote it,” Ross said. However, for those suggesting that it changes over time, “The question is has the national sense of gay marriage changed to the point that we believe the prohibition of gay marriage is unconstitutional.”
Ross pointed to a debate between Justice Antonin Scalia, who is an originalist and believes that the Constitution should be interpreted only as the framers intended it to be, and Ted Olson, one of the challengers of Proposition 8.
Scalia said to Olson earlier this week, “I’m curious. When did it become unconstitutional to exclude homosexual couples from marriage? 1791? 1868, when the 14th Amendment was adopted? When did the law become this?”
Olson’s response was, “When did it become unconstitutional to prohibit interracial marriage? When did it become unconstitutional to assign children to separate schools?”
Ross added that the Supreme Court’s decision on DOMA revolves around whether or not Federal benefits can be denied in states that allow same-sex marriages.
“That seems to run afoul of the Equal Protection Clause,” he said. “The question is who gets to define marriage.”
A ruling on either case is not expected until June, according to published reports.