What are Prop 8 and DOMA and Why Do They Matter?

This week, as the Supreme Court released its rulings on a variety of different issues, supporters of same-sex marriage were particularly anxious to hear an important piece of news: the Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8.

What is the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)?

The Defense of Marriage Act is a federal law that restricts federal marriage rights to opposite-sex couples. It was enacted on September 21, 1996 under the Clinton administration, though Clinton, among others who were involved in the law’s enactment, has since changed his position and advocated for its repeal.

Supreme Court deems DOMA unconstitutional

Supreme Court deems DOMA unconstitutional

The law’s exact wording on the issue of marriage is as follows:
“In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any  ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative  bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word `marriage’ means  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.” (Defense of Marriage Act)

Among others, these are the benefits that have been denied to same-sex marriages under the Defense of Marriage Act:

  • Insurance benefits for government employees
  • Social Security survivors’ benefits
  • Immigration benefits
  • Joint tax return benefits

What is Prop. 8?

Prop. 8, or California Proposition 8, is a ballot proposition passed in California’s November 2008 elections. Much like DOMA, it declares that only opposite-sex marriages may be recognized by the state of California. The proposition effectively overturns a California Supreme Court ruling released in May of 2008 that found marriage to be a fundamental constitutional right that should be granted to all couples. The timeline of same-sex marriage history in California is shown below:

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