Arizona town defies legal threats to allow same-sex civil unions
The former mining town of Bisbee in southern Arizona on Tuesday voted five to two to pass legislation allowing any couple – straight or gay – to join in a civil ceremony.
“We're just acknowledging the people that live here. It's a big step in the right direction for a tiny town ... it's pretty neat,” Bisbee's council member told reporters.
The Council's vote came as the US Supreme Court is debating whether to shoot down a law denying federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.
Arizona's constitution recognizes marriage as a union of one man and one woman. The state's attorney general wrote to the council before the historic vote stressing it had "no authority to pass the ordinance."
Amid signs of rising support for same-sex marriages in the United States, the Supreme Court indicated Wednesday that it may move to invalidate the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, that denies same-sex couples access to tax deductions and other federal benefits, the Chicago Tribune newspaper writes.
The vote is not expected until summer. Enacted in 1996 under President Bill Clinton, DOMA defines marriage as a legal union between a man and a woman.
Recent remarks by Supreme Court judges have illustrated a sharp change of attitudes in favor of same-sex marriage.
Thus, conservative-minded Supreme Court Judge Antonin Scalia argued that there was sufficient evidence showing that children raised by same-sex couples are not adversely affected, the newspaper says.
Congressmen, both Democrats and Republicans, have rushed to demonstrate support for gay marriage.
Senator Rob Portman of Ohio, seen as a possible future presidential nominee, said he had reversed his opposition to gay marriage after his son told him two years ago that he was gay.
Numerous public figures and prominent groups, including former President Bill Clinton and the American Academy of Pediatrics, are raising their voices to protect the right of same-sex couples to get married and raise children, according to the Reuters news agency.
President Barack Obama personally endorsed gay marriage and called for extra constitutional protection for gays.
Meanwhile, the activity surrounding same-sex marriage cases has prompted Chief Justice John Roberts to suggest that gays have, in fact, become a political force in no need of protection.
Midway into a second day of tackling the gay marriage issue, conservatives on the US Supreme Court said on Wednesday they were troubled by President Barack Obama's decision in 2011 not to defend in court a ban Congress had approved.
The decision by Obama to abandon the legal defense of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) called into question his willingness to defend other laws passed by Congress and challenged in court, several conservative justices said.
"It's very troubling," said Justice Anthony Kennedy.
While the criticisms may not affect how the justices eventually rule on whether the 1996 law violates U.S. equal protection rights, it showed frustration with how Obama has walked a difficult political line on gay marriage.
Obama and his attorney general, Eric Holder, said in February 2011 they would cease defending the law because they believed it to be invalid under the U.S. Constitution.
In the place of the U.S. Justice Department, Republican lawmakers have stepped in to argue for the law.
Chief Justice John Roberts pressed government lawyer Sri Srinivasan on how the government will now decide which laws to defend. "What is your test?" Roberts asked.
Justice Antonin Scalia, who served in the Justice Department in the 1970s, criticized its "new regime."
Almost two hours of oral argument will be heard by the court on DOMA. The nine justices heard arguments on Tuesday on the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage.
In those arguments, the justices displayed a reluctance to rule broadly on the right to marry for gays and lesbians, suggesting the court may be similarly cautious about DOMA.
Rulings in both cases are expected by the end of June.
The cases come before the court as polls show growing support among Americans for gay marriage but division among the 50 states. Nine states recognize it; 30 states have constitutional amendments banning it and others are in-between.
DOMA limits the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. It permits benefits such as Social Security survivor payments and federal tax deductions only for married, opposite-sex couples, not for legally married same-sex couples.
President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law in 1996 after it passed Congress with only 81 of 535 lawmakers opposing it. Clinton, a Democrat, earlier this month said that times have changed since then and called for the law to be overturned.
Voice of Russia, Reuters, Chicago Tribune