Surprise! Tea Party Members Support Striking Down DOMA

by Kilian Melloy
Wednesday Jul 14, 2010

Many may find it surprising that the Tea Party favors striking down the so-called "Defense of Marriage" Act (DOMA), the anti-gay federal law signed by Bill Clinton in 1996 that allows states to ignore marriages performed elsewhere and that also expressly forbids any federal recognition of gay and lesbian families.

But Tea Party philosophy embraces limited government, including an emphasis on states' rights, over social policies that punish GLBT individuals and their families. Conservative bloggers say that it shouldn't be a surprise at all that some among the movement support a recent ruling by federal court judge Joseph L. Tauro striking DOMA down.

"Although the likes of Keith Olbermann and Janeane Garofalo smugly attempt to marginalize the Tea Party movement by falsely stating that it is populated by anachronistic racists, homophobes and rednecks, the fact is that many actually are supportive of the recent U.S. District Court decision out of Massachusetts which struck down the federal ban on gay marriage," a July 13 posting at Before It's says.

The article referenced a July 13 article at the Washington Post that noted the contrast between the Tea Party and other conservative groups, which lost no time in decrying the court's ruling.

"I do think it's a state's right," said Phillip Dennis, the state coordinator of a Texas Tea Party group. "I believe that if the people in Massachusetts want gay people to get married, then they should allow it, just as people in Utah do not support abortion," Dennis said, noting that this was his personal opinion and not a Tea Party platform. Indeed, the Tea Party sticks to fiscal issues, and leaves social questions out of their message.

"On the issue itself, we have no stance," said Florida Tea Party Patriots state director Everett Wilkinson on the matter of marriage equality, adding, "but any time a state's rights or powers are encouraged over the federal government, it is a good thing." According to Wilkinson, hundreds of the Florida party's membership are gay themselves.

Whereas other conservative groups may be influenced by anti-gay religious sentiment, the Tea Party tends more toward libertarian principles, noted the Washington Post.

However, opinion within the Tea Party movement is nuanced, and falls across a spectrum of acceptance for the rights of GLBT individuals and their families. Some Tea Partiers fear that the ruling could lead to broader legal recognition of gay and lesbian families, reported the New York Times in a July 9 article.

"As far as an assertion of states' rights goes, I believe it's a good thing," Shelby Blakely told the Times. Blakely heads up the Tea Party publication The New Patriot Journal, an online periodical. "The Constitution does not allow federal regulation of gay marriage just as it doesn't allow for federal regulation of health care," added Blakely, before going on to say, "But I don't want to come off saying I support gay marriage."

That concern--that supporting state's rights would be confused with supporting gay rights--was echoed by founder Steve Moon, who told the Times, "It's unconstitutional for the federal government to pass laws superseding state authority--and the judge did affirm states' rights in this area. But I personally believe in the sanctity of marriage between a man and woman and support any state passing laws affirming the sanctity of marriage."

"The judge's ruling doesn't force any state to do anything, but rather says that the federal government should not infringe on Massachusetts's right to regulate marriage," noted Evan Wolfson, who heads up the New York-based GLBT family advocacy group Freedom to Marry. Wolfson pointed out that the court's ruling "provides a return to the way the federal government has always dealt with marriage--leaving it to the states."

But while conservatives may have mixed feelings about the issue, they do understand something that conservatives might have missed, contends Jack Balkin, a law professor at Yale, at the website Balkinization.

"Judge Tauro's attempt to limit federal power through the Tenth Amendment so that it does not interfere with state prerogatives might delight members of the contemporary Tea Party movement (at least if it wasn't aimed at DOMA)," writes Balkin in a July 8 posting, "but it should give most Americans pause."

Balkin noted that the federal government relies on its ability to levy taxes and allocate the resulting funds in order to support "many of the benefits that citizens hold dear, including Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, and the newly passed provisions of the Affordable Care Act." Balkin points out that "These programs have regulatory effects on state family policies just as much as DOMA does. If DOMA's direct interference with state prerogatives is beyond federal power, then perhaps any or all of these programs are vulnerable--and unconstitutional--to the extent they interfere with state policies regarding family formation as well.

"Put differently, Judge Tauro has offered a road map to attack a wide range of federal welfare programs, including health care reform," theorized Balkin. "No matter how much they might like the result in this particular case, this is not a road that liberals want to travel."

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


  • StopAskingPermission, 2010-07-14 15:20:17

    Where do you get the idea that the Tea Party or anyone affiliated with them mentioned striking down DOMA?

  • , 2010-07-14 16:38:17

    ^^^ In the article. They’re pretty clear they’re against it as an abrogation of the federal government’s power.

  • , 2010-07-14 17:38:25

    So they’re against DOMA...that makes sense given their libertarian, small government agenda. How do they feel about repealing Dont Ask Don’t Tell? Or federal Hate Crimes laws or including trans-people in the federal Employment Non-Discrimination Act? What are their fully flushed beliefs towards our community? I ask because I just found out my Mom just jonied the Tea Hawaii! I need help!

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