DOMA and Prop 8 Explained: Why These Will Be the Biggest Issues in 2013


The Defense of Marriage Act became law in 1996. The act, which is better known as DOMA, defined, “marriage as the union between a man and a woman.” The law also prevents same-sex couples from receiving federal marital benefits that married heterosexual couples are entitled. 

In 2008, Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that was modeled after DOMA, banned same-sex marriages in California. In February, Prop 8 was overturned and the government stopped defending DOMA. Although the Federal Courts of Appeals has ruled on same-sex marriages on many occasions, the Supreme Court would have the final say. The Supreme Court would soon indicate whether it would take up the case. Both proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage are eagerly waiting to see if the Court would hear the case. More importantly, they would want to know how the high Court would rule on this important issue. Therefore, marriage equality is poised to be a big issue in 2013.

In 2008, a court in California declared unconstitutional a ban on gay marriage. This decision, which would pave the way for gay marriage, helped mobilize opponents. During the 2008 election, they succeeded in placing Prop 8 on the ballot. The initiative, which re-established the ban, was passed. But in 2010, a federal judge overturned Prop 8. Angered by the decision, opponents went on to appeal the ruling. However, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decided not to hear the case. Now, it is more likely that the Supreme Court would be the final arbiter since the Court of Appeals opted not to review the case.

Supporters of marriage equality have won many victories in the past few years. At first, their victories were won in the court and in the state legislature. For instance, Massachusetts and New York were the first two states that legalized gay marriage. But during the 2012 presidential election, four states (Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, and Washington) joined them by actually voting for marriage equality. As a result, gay marriage is currently legal in six states and in the District of Columbia.

Despite these victories, gay couples still do not get the same benefits as traditional couples because of the way that the Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage. That is why proponents of marriage equality oppose DOMA so vehemently. Opponents, on the other hand, strongly support DOMA because they believe that the act would help safeguard traditional marriage. Hence, if the Justices choose to review the case, the stakes would be high since they would decide the very constitutionality of gay marriage.