current affairs

DOMA: A win towards equality around the world

On 26th June, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, allowing same-sex couples the legal benefits of same-sex couples to be recog

On 26th June, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, allowing same-sex couples the legal benefits of same-sex couples to be recognised by the federal government.

In 1996, Bill Clinton signed into action the Defence of Marriage Act, which meant that the federal government did not recognise same-sex unions as ‘marriage,’ instead defining it as strictly between a man and a woman. At present 12 states of the total 50 have legalised same-sex marriage, allowing same-sex couples to call their union a marriage, as well as entitling them to the many benefits married couples receive. Such unions and benefits, though, were not recognised by the federal government, meaning that the title of marriage and the legal benefits were only applicable in a small number of states, a fraction of the whole.


However, a landmark ruling today saw this act overturned by the Supreme Court, with Justice Anthony Kennedy declaring that DOMA is one that defies the Fifth Amendment. As a result couples of the same sex will have their marriage benefits recognised not only in the state they were married in, but by the federal government of the United States of America, a huge win towards the equality same-sex couples have been striving towards.

Whilst not all the 50 states of America have legalised same-sex marriage, campaigners have been fighting for equality to opposite-sex married couples, whose legal benefits are recognised by the federal government.

Highly contested issue

Same-sex marriage is a highly contested issue, not only in the US, but also in the UK and France. At present, the House of Lords are debating the UK’s same-sex marriage bill and it was passed 366 votes to 161 by the House of Commons in March. During the debates, Lord Dear attempted to introduce a wrecking amendment that would have rejected the bill at its second reading, yet this was voted against.

Same-sex marriage has become law in France, making it the 14th country to do so. However, there has been much resistance to the idea, including a man protesting against the bill by attempting interrupting the French Open with a lit flare. More recently, a gay couple is suing a French mayor who has refused to marry them, showing that although the bill has passed in law, in society it has not altogether been accepted.

Not accepted

Whilst campaigners have been arguing for what they perceive as equality to opposite-sex couples, protestors have severely taken against the redefinition of marriage that it would imply. In citing religious arguments, protestors have claimed that same-sex marriage is in direct opposition to The Bible, hence the slogan “It’s Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

Furthermore, marriage has been referred to as a core institution of a country’s values and beliefs, a view particularly held by the US Republican Party and Mitt Romney. Many have likened the resistance to the bill to the protestation against interracial marriage, perceiving it to be a similar civil rights issue. Ultimately, it has to be decided whether it is a moral question, or a religious one.

In the UK, the proposed bill will prevent the Church of England and the Church of Wales from performing same-sex marriage unions as a means of safeguarding their religious freedoms. However, groups such as the Quakers have expressed their willingness to perform such unions and will be legally allowed to do so if the bill passes.

Separate but equal

In essence, the debate around same-sex marriage takes two sides. On the one hand, those for it seek to have their unions recognised as a marriage, proving them to be equal to opposite-sex couples. In the UK, civil partnerships entitle same-sex couples to the same legal benefits, but do not allow the union to be referred to as a marriage. This in turn has created the argument that same-sex couples are separate but equal.

The repeal of DOMA in the US is about allowing same-sex couples that have been married have the federal government recognise their union as one, allowing them access to their legal benefits as a married couple across the states. On the other hand, protestors have decried same-sex marriage as a social evil, one that redefines and therefore weakens the institution of marriage. Indeed, they perceive the need for preservation, in some cases using religious arguments such as those The Bible provides for vindication.

The Supreme Court’s decision today represents another move towards equality for same-sex couples; they now have the federal government’s recognition of their union. However, this does not entirely mean that full equality has been achieved, particularly as the majority of states still do not allow same-sex marriage.

What do you think is next for same sex marriage? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter. You can also read a piece by deputy editor Alex Veeneman examining the view from Americans on DOMA here.

Photo: Fibonacci Blue