This election year saw same-sex marriage on the ballot in four states, with Maine, Maryland, and Washington voters approving of legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. A significant step towards marriage equality was also seen in Minnesota where voters turned down an amendment which defined marriage as a union strictly between a man and a woman.
The legalization of same-sex marriage in these three states defies the national Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which was passed in the Clinton era. DOMA bars the federal recognition of same-sex marriage and claims other states cannot be forced to recognize it. ‘‘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’’, according to the Defense of Marriage Act, section 3.
The Obama administration announced in 2011 that it had determined that section 3 was unconstitutional. Though the administration would continue to enforce the law, it would no longer defend it in court. The GOP, trying to defend the clause’s definition of marriage, has turned to the Department of Justice to uphold it. Despite the GOP's attempts, various federal courts have declared the section unconstitutional in 2012.
Even though DOMA doesn’t recognize the legality of same-sex marriage, many states have their own laws in place which legalize same-sex marriage. The states that issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples are Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York and the District of Columbia. Five additional states – Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey and Rhode Island – currently allow civil unions that provide rights similar to those gained with marriage.
Petitions dealing with marriage were circulated in at least five other states--California, Colorado, Florida, Nebraska, and Ohio--but failed to gather sufficient signatures to reach the November 2012 ballot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In a break from the established historical pattern on this issue, all of these petitions sought to either legalize same-sex marriage or repeal an existing ban on it.
With these initiatives both on and off the ballot, the 2012 election signaled a a critical year for the momentum of the marriage equality movement. “It’s good to hear that the state of Maine approved an initiative legalizing same-sex marriage. I agree that everyone has the freedom to pursue happiness and deserves the happiness from marriage no matter the gender of the partner," Molly Mao, A&S’16, said.