Pizza with the Professors Event Examines Marriage Equality
Web Editor - Published: March 17, 2012

“Right now, we’ve got six states plus the District of Columbia that recognize same-sex marriage,” said Professor John Culhane as he spoke to students about recent developments in the battle for marriage equality at lunch time on Tuesday, March 13th as part of the Pizza with the Professors series.

Following a brief introduction from Assistant Professor Luke M. Scheuer, Professor Culhane briefly discussed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was passed in 1996 and explicitly defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman in federal law. He noted that the Obama Administration initially defended DOMA but has since reversed course and said that such a provision violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

“The biggest victory for marriage equality of course was last year in New York,” said Professor Culhane as he turned his attention to considering developments at the state level.

Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont and the District of Columbia currently grant marriage licenses to same sex couples. Washington state and Maryland have also passed laws to recognize same sex marriage, but implementation of those laws is being delayed ahead of November 2012 voter referenda. Professor Culhane also briefly touched on developments in California regarding the litigation surrounding Proposition 8.

“There’s still a lot of investment in the word marriage,” he noted as he discussed how civil unions are more palatable to voters in many states, adding, “A lot of people still see that association between religion and marriage that complicates things.”

Professor Culhane also briefly spoke about an article he recently wrote for Slate that looked at the phenomenon of straight civil unions in Illinois, where the option of a civil union instead of marriage has opened up for opposite sex couples. After having the opportunity to talk to a few of these straight couples that opted for a civil union rather than marriage, he found three primary motivations. Some couples opted for the civil union out of distaste for the connection between religion and the institution of marriage, while others did not care for the historical baggage and traditional gender roles associated with marriage. Finally, some couples suggested that that they wanted to show solidarity with gays and lesbians who did not have the option to get married.

Professor Culhane closed the event by suggesting that he hoped that his examinations of marriage might be a way to open up a “Broader discussion of the privileges, rights, and obligations of marriage,” before taking a few questions from students in the audience.

The next Pizza with the Professors event will feature Professor Alan Garfield and Associate Professor Sonia Baldia speaking about Intellectual Property issues on Tuesday March 20th at noon in the student lounge off Main Street.