by Cara Murphy, Staff Writer
2013 started off as a significant year for proponents of gay rights with the momentum giving no sign of slowing down. From Barack Obama’s inauguration address which stated that, “Our journey is not complete until our gay brothers and sisters are treated like anyone else under the law,” to Hillary Clinton’s recent vocal support of same-sex marriage, the past several weeks suggest that an overhaul of the issue of marriage equality may be coming in the near future.
In February, now former Defense Secretary Leon Panetta announced that there would be an extension of a number of benefits available to those who are in same-sex relationships. However, there would be limits due to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), if same-sex couples are willing to sign the military’s “Declaration of Domestic Partnership” form they would be entitled to benefits previously unavailable to then such as the ability to access commissaries, the right to visit their partners in military hospital, and survivor benefits. There is no official number showing how many couples would benefit from these changes, but it is estimated that over 9,000 active duty and National Guard troops and 8,000 retirees would seek such benefits when they go into affect no later than Fall 2013. Items that would still be unavailable to same-sex couples would include housing-benefits and health care coverage.
The Supreme Court has heard arguments regarding both California’s Proposition 8 and DOMA. This was the first time that SCOTUS has heard a case regarding same-sex marriage, and it is believed that this will define the court’s legacy. California’s Proposition 8, which stated that marriage is to be limited to a union between a male and a female, was approved by a vote of 52.3% to 47.7% in November 2008. Though opponents of the proposition state that this act violates their ability to obtain equal rights, supporters suggest that the Supreme Court should allow public to determine the way they want to handle such an issue. DOMA, passed in 1996, defines marriage for federal purposes as a union between only a man and a woman. So while there are a number of states including New York that allow couples to be married, for federal purposes the marriage is invalid; a couple that is married for New York purposes has no legal standing when they enter Pennsylvania which does not recognize same-sex marriages. DOMA has already been struck down in four federal district courts and two appeals courts so this Supreme Court hearing on the act has been a long time coming.
Hearings on Proposition 8 were heard on March 26 and the arguments concerning DOMA were heard the following day. Though it is expected that a ruling on this cases will not come until the summer, it is believed that these hearings will spark great debate concerning same-sex marriage.
2013 is proving to be a year of major changes regarding gay rights.