Civil Rights attorneys discuss Defense of Marriage Act, LGBTQ rights

CSUN invited civil rights attorneys, David Codell and Carmina Ocampo to discuss the history of LBGTQ rights leading to the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in 2013.

The lecture is part of the Gender, Race, Identity and the Law in our Lives lecture series.

DOMA is a federal law passed in 1996 that allowed states to refuse to recognize marriages of same-sex couples issued under the laws of other states. The law was signed into law by President Bill Clinton who later advocated for its repeal.

Codell gave a brief history of the progress that has been made for LGBT rights.

“It’s hard to imagine that only a short time ago, gay and lesbian people were treated very different under the law,” Codell said.

In 2011, the Obama administration announced that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional and that they would no longer defend it.

In June 2013, the Supreme Court ruled the same section unconstitutional under the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment, making same-sex couples legally married in their home states eligible to receive federal protections such as Social Security and veterans benefits.

Codell is the constitutional litigation director at the National Center for Lesbian Rights. Ocampo is a staff attorney at the Western Regional Office of Lambda Legal, both work to  fight discrimination against the LGBTQ community.

“When you work in civil rights, you often find that it is two steps forward, one step back,” Ocampo said.

Codell also discussed the issue of children in the same-sex marriage debate. Opponents of same-sex marriage often believe that is important to only promote heterosexual marriages, so that children can grow up with both a mother and a father, Codell said.

“These arguments don’t focus on the actual social reality in which we live in today,” Codell said.

DOMA humiliates tens of thousands of children already being raised by same-sex couples, he said.

“It sends a signal that their families are less worthy of respect and protection than other families” Codell said. “Gay people exist, children being raised by gay people exist. The law has for so long treated LGBT people as if they were invisible and strangers to the law. Now the law is saying we recognize you, we give you rights, you are equal too.”

Over the course of history, government has been known to grant civil rights and take them away, Ocampo said. She said it has taken decades to make progress in the fight against discrimination of the LGBTQ community.

“Those civil rights have not come easy, but through the hard work of social movements and their activists,” Ocampo said. “There’s still a lot of work to be done.”

Orion Alvarado, a freshman mechanical engineering student, attended the event at the recommendation of a professor. He said he learned a lot from the lecture.

“I didn’t know about some of the technicalities around the topic of same-sex marriage,” Alvarado said. “How we define our rights and civil liberties is more complicated than I thought.”