DOMA Continues To Crumble In The Courts
On May 9, 2012, President Obama made history by becoming the first U.S. president to publicly support same-sex marriage. In an interview with ABC news, he said, “I think same sex couples should be able to get married.”
Despite the president’s public support for same-sex marriage, it is still not recognized by federal law. However, since President Obama spoke in favor of same-sex marriage, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) has been crumbling in U.S. courts.
DOMA, signed into federal law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, defines marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.” Even though same-sex marriage is currently legal in several states (including New York, Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, Iowa, and DC), it is still not recognized at the federal level. Because of DOMA, same-sex marriages do not qualify for federal perks such as Social Security survivor benefits and insurance benefits for federal government employees. DOMA also means that same-sex spouses cannot file joint tax returns, and other states don’t have to recognize the legality of same-sex marriages. But DOMA may not be around much longer.
On May 31, 2012, in the federal case Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, a panel of U.S. Court of Appeals judges affirmed a previous ruling that Section 3 of DOMA violates equal protection as guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. (Section 3 of DOMA is the portion of the law that mandates non-recognition of same-sex marriage for all federal purposes.)
Then, on June 5, 2012, in the case of Perry v. Brown, the Ninth Circuit denied a request to reconsider a previous decision which found California’s Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional. This means that the case will probably go to the Supreme Court.
If the case goes to the Supreme Court, a final decision would likely be issued in 2013, and the Court’s decision in this case could very well lead to DOMA’s demise. However, the Supreme Court could simply rule that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional without guaranteeing marriage equality for same-sex couples.
Several other cases regarding DOMA are pending, too. If public opinion is any indicator, then LGBT couples will soon be granted the same rights afforded to other couples — and those who oppose same-sex marriage will see that equal protection for LGBT couples will not weaken the family or unravel the fabric of society. As President Obama said at a recent fundraiser, “We have never gone wrong when we expanded rights and responsibilities to everybody. That doesn’t weaken families; that strengthens families.”