Marriage equality is still in its infancy, and there is still a lot of controversy surrounding it. However, whether one is for it or against it, one of the central tenets surrounding the decision is the idea of equal protection under the law.
What is Equal Protection Under The Law?
Equal protection, enshrined in the 14th Amendment, states that, “No state shall… deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” Basically, it means that if the government makes a law, then that law has to be applied equally to citizens of the United States.
The equal protection clause has been used in a lot of big, historical cases. Brown v. Board of Education was a big one, where it was determined that racially segregated schools were inherently not equal. It’s also been used in cases like Reed v. Reed, which was a case about gender discrimination. In short, the 14th Amendment is all about how laws have to be fair, and that if we apply them in a manner that is inherently unequal, then that practice needs to change.
All Marriages Are Equal
The rationale for applying the 14th Amendment to marriage was that it was not enough to say that marriages between heterosexual couples and homosexual couples was inherently different when there was no evidence backing up the claim. Because the structure of the marriages, and the laws regulating them, were not affected by the sex or gender of the people applying for a certificate. While different individuals may have personal beliefs regarding the issue, the government has to play by its own rules. That meant that, since all marriages were essentially equal, that they had to be treated equal as well.
That’s why laws like DOMA, which allowed the federal government not to recognize marriages performed by a state where the couple was homosexual were struck down. Also, because this was a federal decision, it means the states cannot simply choose to ignore it. The law didn’t change regarding what marriage is, any more than the law changed when schools had to be integrated. The courts simply pointed out that the laws, as they existed, were not being applied fairly to all people, and that was what needed to be different.