current affairs

DOMA, Prop 8 and Same Sex Marriage in America

Written by Alex Veeneman

On the streets of the United States’ Supreme Court in Washington, communities had gathered.

On the streets of the United States’ Supreme Court in Washington, communities had gathered. Signs were held, rainbow flags waved, and calls to legalise same sex marriage and not to legalise same sex marriage were heard, as a series of protests continued.

The Court was, before the end of its session this month, to rule on two key issues on the issue at the heart of American political debate—the Defence of Marriage Act, a law signed in 1996 recognising marriage in the country as only between a man and a woman, and Proposition 8, a ballot measure in California that banned same sex marriage in the state.


At just after 10am Eastern Time (3pm UK time), the Court’s justices had made up their minds. The Defence of Marriage Act had been considered unconstitutional. In a 5-4 vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the law was in violation of due process and equal protection rules of the US government, according to a report from The Wall Street Journal.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Kennedy said.

Dissenting, Justice Antonin Scalia said the Court should not have ruled on the Act and the Court had been wrong on all merits, according to the Journal. “By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition,” Scalia said.

Wrong on all merits

The decision of Proposition 8 was announced minutes later—it declined to hear the case, and ordered for the previous ruling in California, which was to allow same sex couples to marry, to stand. Chief Justice John Roberts said those who had put the proposition forward had no legal authority to challenge it.

Now, the question that stands for residents here is- what is next? Sarah Bunton-Lauer, who lives in Daytona Beach, Florida, says although she is straight, when she has kids she wants them to grow up in a world where you are accepted regardless of who you are.

 “People are confusing morals with rights,” Bunton-Lauer said. “The legal institution of marriage has no religion involved. Why would someone who is gay who gets legally married not get the same benefits compared to their heterosexual couples?”

Bunton-Lauer added that even though the vote was 5-4 and very divisive, the United States was moving forward to returning to be a great country, and hopes that other states, including Florida, will legalise same-sex marriage. “We’re becoming progressive and you can be who you want to be, and the government will support you,” Bunton-Lauer said. “I hope it’s a domino effect. We’ve seen 3 states legalize same sex marriage. I think the majority of public opinion is in favour of same sex marriage. It’s embarrassing that it isn’t legal.”

It’s embarassing that it isn’t legal

In California, where the state’s governor Jerry Brown has said licences will be issued once the stay on the ruling is lifted, it is a victory for those who want to marry their partner. John O’Connor, the executive director of the advocacy organisation Equality California, said the ruling was a significant victory for the issue, those who want to marry and those in favour of same-sex marriage. “The proponents are not harmed by this,” O’Connor said. “No one is harmed by this when same sex couples marry. We’re on a path towards full marriage equality in the US.”

O’Connor added that real people had been affected by these policies. “The significance of this ruling being today is that real people are affected by these policies. They’re waiting to get married.”

Marriage as a union between man and woman?

Yet, those who are against it have raised concerns. In a statement issued after the rulings, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Republican John Boehner of Ohio, said the ruling was disappointing, but a checks and balances system was required. “A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman,” Boehner said according to the Associated Press news agency.

Tony Perkins, the president of the conservative Family Research Council organisation, said according to the AP that time was not on the side of those who want to see same sex marriage recognised nationally. “As the American people are given time to experience the actual consequences of redefining marriage, the public debate and opposition to the redefinition of natural marriage will undoubtedly intensify,” Perkins said.

As news of these rulings come, the debate on this issue is likely to continue, as the push for recognition in all states is pressed. Whether it can happen is uncertain.

However, the message Bunton-Lauer conveys is one that is shared by many: “Equality always prevails.”

What do you think about these rulings? Should same sex marriage be legal across the United States? Have your say in the comments section below, on Facebook or on Twitter.

Photo credit: nathanmac87