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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Who is Edward Snowden and What Did He Do?

Some information for students (from a fellow student) to keep you up to date with this complicated current affair.

There’s been a lot of talk going around about Edward Snowden and his disclosure of NSA information, but with the amount of commentary in the media, it’s difficult to figure out even some basic information. The purpose of this post is to answer some of the basic questions revolving around Snowden and the NSA.

Who is Edward Snowden?

Born on June 21, 1983 in Wilmington, North Carolina, Edward Joseph Snowden is soon to be thirty years old. He studied computing at Anne Arundel Community College, but illness left him unable to complete his coursework, leaving him without a high school diploma until the later completion of his GED. In 2011, he participated in an online program, working towards a Masters Degree with the University of Liverpool. Seven years earlier, in 2004, Snowden had enlisted in the US Army as a Special Forces recruit, but according to his own reports, was discharged four months later after breaking both his legs in a training accident.


Snowden during an interview with Poitras and Greenwald.

Snowden’s former positions include (in the order he held them):

·      Working for the NSA, he was a security guard for the Center for the Advanced Study of Language, a covert center.

·      He worked for the CIA in IT Security.

·      According to his own reports, the CIA placed Snowden in Geneva under diplomatic cover in 2007, where he oversaw network security.

·      He reports leaving the CIA to work for a private contractor inside a US military base in Japan for the NSA.

·      Until recently, Snowden held a position as a system administrator inside the NSA for consulting company Booz Allen Hamilton in Hawaii. He held this position for under three months and was fired on June 10th after his media disclosures.

What did Snowden disclose?

Through the disclosure of documents and an arranged meeting in Hong Kong with reporter Glen Greenwald, of The Guardian, and documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, Snowden revealed the following pieces of information:

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Back to the Future: a Coping Mechanism for the Apocalypse

Worried about the world collapsing in on itself this Saturday? How about believing in something that’ll give you a 300-year grace period on Armageddon instead?

Blame it on the weatherman.

Bad news: you were 297 years premature when you partied like it was 1999. Silver lining: you’ll survive the end of days. That’s right, if the “Phantom Time Hypothesis” is correct, the above scenario won’t take place for another three centuries. Phew.

According to the theory, the years between 614 and 911AD never existed. For this to be true, “the history normally attributed to that time is either a misinterpretation or a deliberate falsification of the evidence.” Don’t believe it? Like any good conspiracy theory, this one comes with cold hard (you can take those adjectives with a pinch of salt, methinks) facts…

Due to a lack of archeological evidence and historical accounts of this time period, a man called Herman Illig developed the idea in 1990 that most of what we know of the Early Middle Ages had been deliberately falsified. The grounds for his hypothesis also lie in the shift from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar, as well as the unbelievable history of Emperor Charlemagne.

The bases of the hypothesis include:

  • The apparent stagnation in the development of architecture, ceramics and thought as well as the lack of substantial documentary evidence–this is why the first part of this period is called the ‘Dark Ages’–suggests this period simply didn’t exist.
  • There is very little archaeological evidence which can be reliably dated to this period; our account is based on a quite limited number of written sources (which could be faked or just wrong).
  • The Pope introduced the new Gregorian calendar in 1582 to replace the Julian one, when it was 10 days out of sync. If the error had been building up since the introduction of the Julian calendar in 45 ad, it ought to have been 13 days out–so the intervening period must have been overstated by 300 years. Mainstream historians have a simple explanation, though: the purpose of the change was to bring the calendar into line with the Council of Nicaea in 325 ad, not with 45 ad–which accounts for the discrepancy.
  • Architect, astronomer, educator, philologist,  folklorist, lawmaker, statesman–the range of achievements credited to Charlemagne is so great that it implies he is a mythical figure.

Dubious it is, though you may be more inclined to believe it now that the world is evidently coming to an end. I’d post the arguments against the theory, but I’d rather remain cheery on this, my final Monday. And to make you even cheerier, start the video below at the 30 minute mark to watch Qi quizmaster Stephen Fry et al make light of an implausible idea.

So, Happy New Year 1715, and hurray for false history lessons!

For further reading, take a look at these and decide on the verity of the Phantom Time Hypothesis for yourself:

The Myth of Charlemagne

Qi–Time (Phantom Time Hypothesis)