Colorado Attorney General John Suthers has offered different explanations for filing a legal brief in support of a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that bars gay and lesbian married couples from receiving federal marriage benefits. Reporters should find out what Suthers is really thinking.
Massachusetts is suing the federal government to enable gay couples, married there, to receive the same benefits given to other married couples, and Suthers' office joined the feds in defending DOMA against the Massachusetts challenge.
On KHOW's Caplis and Silverman show, Suthers said Monday there was no anti-gay-marriage political agenda behind his action. It's about federalism, he claimed.
He went on to say he's trying to stop the feds from forcing Colorado to recognize a gay marriage performed in Massachusetts.
"I'm getting all kinds of grief about filing an amicus brief in Massachusetts' constitutional challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act," said Suthers on the radio. "And it's very apparent to me that people are attributing political motives to me, being anti-gay marriage, when in fact I think this is another case that really bears upon federalism....We don't want Massachusetts to be able to impose on the federal government or the state of Colorado its definition of marriage."
So what's motivating Suthers? The gay-marriage part? Or the states-rights/federalism part?
It's confusing, especially to people like Brian Moulton, Chief Legislative Council for the Human Rights Campaign, which has been tracking the issue.
He told me that, in response to questions about the case, Suthers' office has sent emails to constituents stating that Suthers decided to get involved in the Massachusetts case to defend Colorado's Amendment 43, which defined marriage here as between a man and a woman. Moulton said that Suthers' email stated that his office is obliged to defend Colorado's laws, and that's what he's doing.
Moulton told me:
"So certainly, at least initially, he was telling his constituents that he was defending Colorado's marriage laws, and that was the initial response he gave to the Denver Post when they inquired about it. It's all fine and good to say you're concerned about federal involvement with the states... But certainly that was not the initial response of the AG's office, and I'm finding it hard to square the circle. It's hard to know which of the messages to believe."
It's particularly hard to square the circle because the case that Suthers has decided to join isn't really about gay marriage. It's about whether gay couples, who are already married in Massachusetts, have a legal right to federal marriage benefits.
We're talking about stuff like allowing gay couples to be buried together (OMG, what will they do?) in a veterans' cemetery and to get spousal benefits under Medicaid, according to Moulton.
Is Suthers, on behalf of the people of Colorado, saying gay couples from Massachusetts should not be allowed to be buried together in a veterans' cemetery? We don't know because neither Caplis nor Silverman asked him. But fortunately, Silverman promised on the radio to have Suthers back on the show to talk more about the DOMA issue.
Here are some questions Caplis and Silverman should ask him (And for you skeptics, these are the types of questions they ask regularly on the show.):
First, there's the question above about how Suthers will feel if he successfully prevents gay veterans, married in Massachusetts, from being buried together.
Then there's a question that flows from something both Moulton and Suthers' office (as quoted in Tuesday's Denver Post) agree on: The Massachusetts case involving DOMA won't invalidate Colorado's marriage law, but, theoretically, if Massachusetts wins its case, Colorado's ban on gay marriage could possibly be a little bit harder to defend down the road. Is it right to support a lawsuit that strips gay couples, married in another state, of the right to be buried together or to receive Medicaid benefits, simply because having those benefits might, theoretically, make Colorado's ban on gay marriages slightly harder to defend? Does this put any stress on Suthers' conscience?
Another question: If Suthers' underlying motivation is related to states rights, why pick this case? As Moulton pointed out: "In this case, what Massachusetts is saying is, our state's rights are being impinged upon because what the federal government is saying is, here's some money for a federal program, but if you have to use it, you have to discriminate against some of your own lawfully married citizens under your own law. They are arguing that (DOMA) is infringing on their rights as a state. It does seem odd to have some other state [Colorado] say, no no, that's not okay."
And this question, posed by Moulton, gets to the heart of the matter: "At the end of the day, if what you're really doing is just attacking Massachusetts because they've decided to stand up for their gay and lesbian married citizens, because you have some fear that one day in some hypothetical case that doesn't exist, your marriage law might be in jeopardy, doesn't this seem pretty mean-spirited and maybe not the best use of state resources right now in this time of fiscal stress?"
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