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Students React to Defense of Marriage Act Change

By Nadia L. Farjood and Tara W. Merrigan, Crimson Staff Writers

On the heels of a decision by the Obama administration to stop defending a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), members of the Harvard community expressed excitement over the decision as an advance for gay rights. But skepticism also remains as some wonder whether the policy shift may be a political ploy to solidify support among President Obama’s liberal base.

Last Wednesday, Obama announced that he would stop defending the legality of Section 3 of DOMA, which stipulates that the federal government only recognize marriage as the union between a man and woman.

“Optimistically speaking, Obama may be responding to pressures the LBGTQ community has put on him even before being elected,” said Queer Students and Allies Co-Chair Marco Chan ’11.  “It could be a symbol of change and hope to turn around difficult times we faced with previous administration.”

“More cynically, the repeal could be speculated as, more broadly speaking, responding to his base and trying to re-energize it instead of trying to move a center that may not be moved,” he said.

Cabot House Tutor Stephen J. Vider, a Ph.D. candidate in the History of American Civilization Program, said that Obama’s move signified progress in the gay rights movement.

Vider—who in November married his partner and fellow Cabot House tutor, David S. Byers—said that, in addition to being personally meaningful, the formal acknowledgement of his own marriage also inspired hope in him that all gay marriages will soon be federally recognized.

“Judaism is important to both of us, so when we first got engaged, we knew how significant the religious ceremony would be for us. But I think we were both surprised by how meaningful the legal recognition felt, even just going down to Cambridge City Hall to get a marriage certificate.” said Vider, adding that he was heartened by the outpouring of support from Cabot residents.

Elizabeth C. Elrod ’11, Co-Chair of GirlSpot, echoed Vider’s hopeful sentiments.

“If I got married it would be awesome because I would be able to live in Florida—my home state, which currently restricts gay marriage—and be legally recognized,” Elrod said. “Obama’s reversal on DOMA means I can live peacefully in my home.”

Some students said that this decision represented the fulfillment of one of Obama’s campaign promises and was not surprising given his history of supporting gay rights.

“Repealing DOMA was one of Obama’s campaign promises in 2008. A lot of people wanted to make sure it happened before 2012 election,” said Katie R. Zavadski ’13, campaigns director for the Harvard College Democrats. "I think everyone is very pleased."

Since the 1960s, gay couples have worked to achieve recognition of their relationships before the law.

“Another important dimension to the announcement is that same-sex marriage is less controversial as it used to be,” added Chan.

“The wedge is losing its edge.”

—Staff writer Nadia L. Farjood can be reached at nadiafarjood@college.harvard.edu.

—Staff writer Tara W. Merrigan can be reached at tmerrigan@college.harvard.edu.

This article has been revised to reflect the following correction.

CORRECTION: MAR. 2, 2011

The Mar. 1 article "Students React to Defense of Marriage Act Change" quoted Stephen J. Vider out of context. Additionally, the article mischaracterized President Obama's record on gay rights as exhibiting a history of support for gay marriage. While Obama has indiciated support for gay rights, he has not explicitly expressed support for gay marriage.

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