Supreme Court: DOMA and Proposition 8

As one of the biggest debates in America, the legality of gay marriage has finally worked its way up to the Supreme Court, although the matter has been a point of contention for years.  The two cases that are being argued have sparked even more controversy throughout the country. The cases concern two separate pieces of legislation, one federal and one on the state level.

Windsor v. United States

The Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) was enacted in 1996 under President Bill Clinton’s administration. It defines marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” Since then, Clinton has retracted his support of DOMA and now believes that it is unconstitutional.

Teacher Dr. Linda Hyler opposes DOMA because she feels it discriminates against something that people can’t control. She compares the struggle for marriage equality to the struggle for racial equality that she witnessed when she was in elementary school.

“I just find it sad that we can’t all get along and not want to rule other people,” Dr. Hyler said.

In 2011, President Obama announced that his administration interpreted section three of  DOMA to be unconstitutional.  The president stated that although they were still planning to enforce it, efforts would not be made to defend it. The section states that the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages for federal purposes such as Social Security survivors benefits, filing joint tax returns and immigration. Under DOMA, lawful permanent residents of the United States and citizens of the United States are not able to obtain immigrant visas for their same-sex spouses from other countries.

Windsor v. United States challenges DOMA. The plaintiff Edith Windsor was in a relationship with a woman named Thea Spyer for 44 years. The two were married in Toronto in 2007 after a long engagement, and their marriage was recognized in their home state of New York because the ceremony occurred in Canada.

The issue with DOMA arose after Spyer died from multiple sclerosis in 2009. Even though New York recognized their marriage, the federal government did not. Spyer left her estate to Windsor when she died. If Spyer had been a man, Windsor would have received the estate tax marital deduction that is available to widows of heterosexual couples. However,  Windsor was assessed $363,000 in estate taxes simply because she and her deceased spouse were of the same gender.

Hollingsworth v. Perry

Hollingsworth v. Perry is challenging the constitutionality of Proposition 8, the California state amendment that was passed in 2008 with only 52% of the population in favor of it. Proposition 8 states that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” Before 2008, a brief window existed in which same-sex marriage was legal in California.

When the amendment was passed, it invalidated almost 4,000 marriage licenses that had been granted in San Francisco in 2007.

In 2004, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier were married in California; however, the legality of their marriage has swayed back and forth with the often changing tides of California state law. After Proposition 8, their marriage vows again meant nothing to the state. Perry and Stier have been together since 1997 and have raised four children.  Now, they are two of the four plaintiffs in Hollingsworth vs Perry.

The two other plaintiffs in the case are Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo of Los Angeles.  Katami and Zarrillo have lived together for 9 years. Both work at jobs where they could be asked to relocate at any point in time. Even when gay marriage was legal in California for several years, they did not want to go through the trouble of getting married only to have their license invalidated in another state if they moved.

Sophomore Marlee Yost-Wolff believes that the federal government should define marriage for the entire country.

“[T]he federal government should be able to define what marriage is because I feel like that’s something that has to be consistent throughout the states,” Yost-Wolff said. “…What if you want to move? Are you not married in one state but married in the other?…It has to be consistent throughout the whole nation.”

While the plaintiffs are pushing for equal marriage rights, conservatives are concerned that legalizing same-sex marriage would undermine the values on which marriage was founded.

“[The Bible] says gay marriage is wrong,” sophomore Curtis Zicker said. “ It says that marriage should be just between a man and a woman.”

If DOMA and Proposition 8 are declared unconstitutional, some conservatives will get upset, but for Zicker, gay marriage would just be an additional item on a growing list of legal activities of which he disapproves.

“…I personally believe gay marriage is wrong, but there are plenty of other things that are legal that I also believe are wrong,” Zicker said. “…I believe abortion is wrong, I believe sex before marriage is wrong…all that’s legal. I think it’ll end up being legal just because it’s America.”

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments on both cases in March, and over the next few months, the nine justices will be deciding whether the Fourteenth Amendment’s constitutional guarantee of equal protection will be extended to include the right of marriage to same-sex couples.

“I think that for the nation as a whole, you can’t discriminate against one group of people,” Yost-Wolff said.

The Supreme Court is not expected to hand down the decisions regarding DOMA and Proposition 8 until June.