Taking Back DOMA: Let the People Decide

If Democrats don’t want gays and lesbians to stay home in 2010 and 2012 (they don’t), they will pass at least a partial repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) sometime next year. President Obama explicitly promised to repeal DOMA during the 2008 campaign, and the Democratic leadership in Congress has also expressed support for repeal. Republicans can and must get out in front of this issue and pressure Democrats into a bipartisan agreement that would still protect the essential spirit of DOMA.

We can do that by supporting a libertarian, populist revision of DOMA — by introducing a Let the People Decide Act of 2010.

Here’s how it would work. The full faith and credit clause that prevents same-sex marriages from being forcibly exported to other states would be left completely intact. The clause that excludes same-sex marriages, civil unions, and domestic partnerships from federal rights and benefits would be repealed if and only if voters within a state approve some version of same-sex unions through ballot issues.

More beneath the fold…

On a partisan strategic level, a Let the People Decide Act would effectively beat Democrats to the punch and allow Republicans to reach out to libertarian and conservative gays and lesbians, as well as social moderates, without betraying the base. It would level the playing field, allowing both proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage to make their case directly to voters and then letting voters make the final decision. A Let the People Decide Act would effectively remove this issue from the Democratic campaign arsenal.

Within the party, it would allow the GOP to reclaim the mantle of the Big Tent by appealing to libertarians, conservatives, and moderates. What’s the appeal for opponents of same-sex marriage, you ask? In order for states to secure federal rights and benefits for same-sex unions, they would have to receive voter consent rather than bypassing voters through judicial activism or liberal legislatures beholden to special interests. A Let the People Decide Act would force states like Massachusetts to finally seek voter approval of same-sex unions.

While this would carry some risk for opponents of same-sex marriage, it must be remembered that in every state that has presented same-sex marriage to voters through the ballot it has been rejected. This most recently includes socially moderate Maine. While proponents of same-sex marriage would stand to potentially gain from a Let the People Decide Act, so would opponents in Massachusetts, Connecticut, and elsewhere. Whatever the outcome, at least both sides would have to be satisfied with the fact that voters — not judicial activists or legislators — made the decision.

On an ideological level, a Let the People Decide Act meshes well with the libertarian strain within the Republican Party. It would make a great addition to a platform that emphasizes freedom first and state sovereignty, and it would emphasize the federal government’s Tenth Amendment responsibility to place the power to decide this issue directly in the hands of the states and the people. This proposal would be federalist and libertarian at its core, emphasizing a Republican commitment to respecting the constitution.

There is valid disagreement within the Republican Party and among the people of the fifty states about the proper degree of recognition for same-sex marriage. The best way to iron out those disagreements and reach consensus is to encourage vigorous debate among voters at the state level. Let’s demand the right of the American people to express their values on this contentious issue. Let the People Decide.

Cross-posted to my personal blog: Nate, Uncensored.