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News and Events:
Battle Over Gay Marriage Pits States Against Federal Government
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Battle Over Gay Marriage Pits States Against Federal Government
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SALLY BARRINGER GORDON, a professor of law and history at Penn Law, says the current effort to ban gay marriages throughout the country reminds her of an earlier attempt to outlaw polygamy. But there was one big difference: Utah was a territory, not a state.

Today, attempts to stop the practice of polygamy would be viewed as interfering with state law, explained Gordon, who said that a constitutional amendment to prohibit same-sex marriage would go beyond anything the federal government has done before.

“Such action would give our secular, national government unprecedented power over marriage,” Gordon said.

“If states are to be laboratories in any real sense, we must carefully consider that kneejerk pull to centralize, even when marriage is at stake.”

Gordon was one of four Law School professors who addressed the state-federal divide and other legal issues surrounding gay marriage during a panel discussion in February. That month the Massachusetts Supreme Court declared it unconstitutional to bar gay couples from wedlock, which set off a round of gay marriages around the country.

According to C. Edwin Baker, Nicholas F.Gallichio Professor of Law, once Massachusetts recognized gay and lesbian couples’ right to have a legal civil union, which provides all legal rights that married couples receive, the constitutional question becomes: Can it restrict the use of the term “marriage,” an extraordinarily meaningful cultural symbol, to the expression of a single authorized set of values?

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