June 26, 2013 is a historic day for both America and gay rights. The Supreme Court ruled The Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) third section, which states that marriage is between a man and woman, is unconstitutional. The Supreme Court also ruled on Prop 8, giving Californian same-sex couples their right to marry again after it was taken away in 2010. Marriage equality has been at the forefront of the gay right’s movement for over a decade and it seeks recognition for same-sex couples to not be treated as second-class citizens with federal recognition of same-sex marriage.
A Brief History of the Gay Rights Movement in the United States: During the 1960-1970s America’s social and political climate changed with the rise of the New Left, bringing identity politics – which were driven by social issues – away from past labor rights movements. Women took to the streets demanding their rights, anti-war protests were active on college campuses all over the country and civil rights activists were continuing their protests to gain recognition as equal citizens to their white counterparts. Gay and lesbian citizens were gaining momentum in their movement after the Stonewall Riots in the early summer of 1969, while gay rights activists encouraged their gay sisters and brothers to “come out” in recognition of gay Americans. By 2002, 36 states repealed or overturned their sodomy laws citing discrimination against same-sex individuals. 10 years ago on the very day DOMA was ruled unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled in the Lawrence V. Texas case striking down Texas’ sodomy law and thereby overturning the remaining 13 states that had sodomy laws.
History of DOMA: The Defense of Marriage Act was enacted on September 21, 1996 and signed into federal law by President Clinton. It states under section 3 in the United States Federal Law that the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages. Thus, if a couple is married in their home state, their marriage will only be recognized by the state and not the federal government. Due to the ban on same-sex marriage, same-sex couples that are married in their state are unable to receive federal benefits. These federal rights include over one thousand rights, benefits and protections. The federal rights include: Issues of adoption, immigration, family and medical leave and tax benefits. One of the specific issues at the forefront of marriage equality is immigration. A US citizen who is in a same-sex marriage with someone from a different country is affected since the federal government won’t recognize the marriage. Therefore, the non-citizen cannot apply for a green card and when their visa runs out they would have to go back to their home country. As a result, hundreds to thousands of miles have separated thousands of couples because their marriage was not recognized federally.
During the 2008 presidential campaign President Obama campaigned on repealing DADT and DOMA. Obama is the first sitting president in office to openly defend gay rights. His support for LGBTQ rights and the repeal of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell in 2011 have helped propel gay rights and have ultimately influenced the ruling on DOMA and Prop 8, along with the plaintiffs who brought their own cases before the Supreme Court in the preceding years.
Prop 8: On May 15, 2008 the California Supreme Court ruled it was discriminatory to deny same-sex couples the right to legally marry. The state of California started to issue legal marriage licenses on June 17, 2008. During the November 2008 elections, California residents voted in favor of Prop 8, which sought to overturn same-sex marriage on November 4, 2008. The issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples stopped on November 5, 2008 – the day after the election – due to citizens voting in favor of Prop 8. The state of California only recognized the couples who married between June 17-November 4 but after that point same-sex couples were unable to marry in the state of California. Then on February 7, 2012 a three-judge panel in the ninth circuit court of appeals ruled the ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. Therefore moving the case to the US Supreme Court.
Same-Sex Marriage Legalization at the State Level: Up until this point same-sex couples have only been able to marry in a handful of states. The first state to legalize same-sex marriage was Massachusetts (it was only 9 years ago but it started the momentum for other states to legalize same-sex marriage). After the legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts, these states followed: Connecticut, Maine, Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Rhode Island, Delaware, New York, Washington, Maryland, Minnesota and the District of Columbia.
Supreme Court Decision on DOMA and Prop 8: The Supreme Court Ruled section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional, allowing same-sex couples federal recognition of their marriage. This means if a couple is married in a state that currently allows same-sex marriage that they are eligible for federal benefits. However, the ruling did not address section 2 of DOMA, which allows states and territories in the United States to have the right to deny individuals legal, same-sex marriage. For example, if a same-sex couple gets married in Massachusetts and then they move to Georgia, they would not get recognition for their marriage, as is not legal in Georgia. At the moment, we do not know when the federal benefits will go in place for the same-sex couples that are legally married. However with the Supreme Courts ruling on Prop 8, we do know that same-sex marriage will resume in California within a month.
Future Equality: This is a step in the right direction not only for LGBTQ rights but also for citizens all over the world. We are taking a great step in the direction towards equality for all. Whether you are LGBTQ identified, a family member, a co-worker or a friend, these 2 rulings aren’t only political but rather, they affect us on personal levels as well. Watching the way people reacted across the globe, from Facebook statuses to Twitter updates, the media coverage was amazing! I couldn’t help myself but shed tears of joy for the great achievement America has made towards better equality for all.