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Prop 8 and DOMA Before the Supreme Court As Marriage Equality Gains Momentum

It is a monumental moment in this country's history: the majority of Americans support gay marriage. But to this day, only nine state governments have legalized same-sex marriage. It's about time the rest of the nation jumps on the bandwagon.

Currently, California has taken the fight to the Supreme Court to win back marriage equality — outlawed after California voters passed Proposition 8 in 2008. Prop 8 legally defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman, only months after the California Supreme Court had ruled same sex marriage legal. Oral arguments for this case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, are scheduled for late March, when the nation's highest court will decide if Proposition 8 should be invalidated under the Constitution. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals has already ruled that it should, but the matter is currently pending appeal.

In addition, U.S. v. Windsor is also pending appeal in the Supreme Court. That case will decide the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed in 1996, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman for federal purposes. President Obama has said his administration would not defend the law in court.

Meanwhile, Obama's own state of Illinois is another up-and-comer on the horizon of marriage rights. A state Senate floor vote is expected on Valentine's Day, with Senate President John Cullerton (D) stating he believes the same-sex marriage legislation will have the 30 votes it needs to pass. 

“I think same sex couples should be able to get married,” said Obama in an interview with ABC News on May 9, 2012, making Obama our country's first sitting president to take a stand for gay marriage. This was just after Vice President Biden let slip his support for same sex marriage on Meet the Press, saying, “What this is all about is a simple proposition: Who do you love?” 

At the moment, six of the nine states that have approved gay marriage (Massachusetts, Vermont, Connecticut, New Hampshire, New York, and Iowa) have legalized it via court ruling or legislation, and the others (Washington, Maine, and Maryland) managed to approve it through popular vote in last year’s statewide referenda. However, while the constitutionality of same-sex marriage may be open to interpretation on a state-by-state basis, it is still strictly unrecognized by federal law, thanks to DOMA; despite the aforementioned cases, thirty states continue to ban gay marriage in their constitutions, and another nine states have it banned by statute.

But public support of same sex marriage continues to grow considerably. According to a 2011 poll by Gallup, 53% were in favor of recognizing marriages between same sex couples as valid by law, with the same rights of traditional marriages.

With these numbers in mind, one could hardly argue against the fact that our nation is (gradually) shifting its stance on this pivotal issue. In his interview with Meet The Press, Biden attributed this waking open-mindedness to “social culture changes,” stating that the TV series Will And Grace “did more to educate the American public than almost anything anybody's ever done.”

Hopefully our culture is finally beginning to realize that it really is about who you love — and who others may love, regardless of sex.. A Government Accountability Office release from 2004 showed that more than 1,138 rights and protections are bestowed by the federal government upon married U.S. citizens. It's time that these benefits — from matters of health insurance to hospital visitation, pensions to Social Security and more — find their way into not only “traditional” marriages, but gay marriages as well. 

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