The heated debate over same-sex marriage is one of the most polarizing issues currently facing the American legal community. It is a controversy being played out in every branch of the federal government, from the floor of the US Senate to the Oval Office. It has raised concerns over the nature of federalism, the constitutional protections afforded on the basis of sexual identity and the role that societal values ultimately play in the formation of public policy.
The American Bar Association (ABA)’s endorsement of same-sex marriage in August 2010 and the official repeal of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell in September 2011 seem to indicate a trend toward the legal recognition of same-sex marriage. However, while President Barack Obama has affirmed his support for the repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enforcement of the law continues, and heavy legislative opposition to same-sex marriage has prevented its repeal.
Advocates of same-sex marriage enjoyed significant victories in February 2012. The Ninth Circuit ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional on February 7, 2012, albeit with a narrow rationale, in Perry v. Brown. In the wake of that ruling, the legislatures of Maryland, New Jersey and Washington all approved legislation that would legalize same-sex marriage.
The US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional on February 22, 2012. Subsequently, the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit issued an opinion finding that Section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman, is unconstitutional because it interferes with a state’s right to define marriage. The decision was issued on May 31, 2012, and was the first judgment by a federal appeals court concerning DOMA.