In his 2013 inauguration speech, President Obama called for greater equality in American society. He specifically discussed the struggle of homosexual couples to achieve legitimate marriage status in the eyes of the state. Obama will likely revisit this theme in the State of the Union Address on Tuesday evening and call for states to recognize same-sex marriages as a civil right.
A state may grant full or partial marriage rights under a different term than marriage, namely as a civil union, a domestic partnership, or a reciprocal beneficiary relationship. When a state does recognize a marriage, the couple is able to take advantage of the multitude of rights that married status entails, such as visiting and power of attorney rights.
Regaardless, if the president addresses both cases and argues in favor of same-sex marriage, the gesture could strengthen social and cultural support for it. Since statewide ballots are the most common method for legalizing same-sex unions, Obama’s rally could significantly aid the cause of equal marriage rights for homosexuals by highlighting and promoting the issue.
If a state chooses not to comply, it will lose significant federal highway funds granted under the Federal Highway Aid Act. With the National Minimum Drinking Age Act of 1984, the federal government did not outlaw underage drinking directly and encroach on states’ jurisdiction; it instead made the penalty for states that allowed the purchase and possession of alcohol by someone under 21 so dire that each state was forced to comply. The effect remains clear today.
Such a strategy is a heavy-handed approach that the federal government can take to ensure that states align with its policies. It’s unlikely, though, that Obama would, given the political cost, or could, given the makeup of the House, attempt to promote such a strategy to same-sex marriage.
More likely, during the State of the Union, Obama will deliver a passionate defense of homosexuals’ right to marry, and going forward, the DOJ will work quietly behind the scenes to encourage in whatever limited way it can the legality of same-sex marriage.