Editorial: We can do more: Greater federal protection needed for same-sex marriage rights

The Supreme Court made headlines Monday in an implicit manner. The nation’s highest court refused to review lower-court rulings that struck down laws and statutes prohibiting same-sex marriage.

The court’s ruling is seen as a victory for the pro same-sex marriage community. The decision to not overturn lower-court findings has increased the number of states in which same-sex marriage is now legal. This group will rise in number from 19 to 24 — adding Wisconsin, Virginia, Indiana, Oklahoma and Utah. Other states in which same-sex marriage is legal include Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island, California, Washington, Delaware and, because of a federal judge’s ruling in May, Pennsylvania. 

Although these are positive measures, federal legislators and courts could take more action to ensure complete marriage equality. 

In June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down section three of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied legally married same-sex couples more than 1,100 protections and responsibilities of marriage. But since many states continue to disallow same-sex marriage, including Ohio, Arkansas, Texas, Florida, Nevada and South Carolina, greater federal protection is necessary to provide equal opportunity to same-sex couples. 

Instead of passively taking a stance, the Supreme Court should have taken the opportunity to establish a national prohibition of anti-same-sex marriage laws. Equality should not cease at states’ borders. Without question, states should possess rights to legislate and live in ways they see fit. But when states still have power to infringe upon basic civil rights, such as whom one can marry, the federal government must step in.

In 1954, the Supreme Court didn’t tell school boards that they had rights as districts to decide against whom they could discriminate. Rather, the Warren Court unanimously came together to send a message. The court made it clear that racial inequality was not a district’s or state’s intrinsic right. Instead, the federal government outwardly opposed institutional racism. Today, the court should do the same with discrimination based on sexual orientation.

Same-sex couples should have access to marriage and its benefits regardless of state citizenship. Rather than letting anti-same-sex marriage policies slowly wither away as public opinion blows them into oblivion, the federal government must adopt a policy to decisively put an end to same-sex marriage prohibition. If the federal government is involved in marriage, it has the responsibility to ensure its policies are fair and equal.

Monday’s ruling was a small victory, but not enough. Perhaps, soon it won’t be 24, but 50 states, that wind up on the right side of history.