DOMA-The Defense of Marriage Act

Supreme Court overthrows DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act)

Washington D.C., United States of America

June 26, 2013

Dabota Wilcox and Elana Sacher

DOMA was passed after the state of Hawaii tried to introduce same sex marriages into their state law. In 1993, the state was sued by three same sex couples who after being denied marriage licenses took legal action. The case brought to light questions of sex discrimination and inspired preliminary evaluations and proposals for legislation that would legalize same sex marriage in the state. The defense of marriage act passed three years later threw out all considerations. It had two provisions. The first defined marriage as a union between and man and woman, while the second provision explicitly granted states the right to deny same sex marriages performed in other states.

DOMA was passed after the state of Hawaii tried to introduce same sex marriages into their state law. In 1993, the state was sued by three same sex couples who after being denied marriage licenses took legal action. The case brought to light questions of sex discrimination and inspired preliminary evaluations and proposals for legislation that would legalize same sex marriage in the state. The defense of marriage act passed three years later threw out all considerations. It had two provisions. The first defined marriage as a union between and man and woman, while the second provision explicitly granted states the right to deny same sex marriages performed in other states.

The Crowd in front of the Supreme Court react to the verdict of DOMA. http://abcnews.go.com/Politics/supreme-court-doma-ruling-looms-immigration-overhaul/story?id=19404559
The Crowd in front of the Supreme Court react to the verdict of DOMA. http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/photography/2013/06/supreme_court_doma_and_prop_8_decision_day_photos_from_outside_the_court.html
doma_protest_0
Protestors in front of the Supreme Court hold up signs in support of gay marriage. Majunznk. 2013. http://rdc.libguides.com/content.php?pid=209056&sid=1742086

The United States vs. Winsor, the case that overthrew DOMA was brought to the Supreme Court by Edith Schlain Windsor after the death of her life time partner and wife, Thea Clara Spyer. They were married in Toronto, Canada, but resided in New York. After Spyer’s death Windsor was slapped with exorbitant inheritance fees despite their 42 year relationship because their union was not recognized under New York law. Windsor’s successful filings against the government reintroduced the law into public discussion which was overturned in a 5-4 ruling. The court decided that it was unconstitutional and a blatant denial of same sex couples civil rights. (Botelho)

 

The majority of the public response to this landmark decision has been positive and in support of its removal but not everyone agrees on the rulings of the court. The Catholic Church for example has been a strong opponent of gay marriage rights. Citing biblical doctrine and traditional marriage ideologies in support of DOMA and other measures that seek to restrict marriage equality. A statement issued by the U.S Conference of Catholic Bishops expressed this view. “Today is a tragic day for marriage and our nation… The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so.” (Desmond 2013) Both views were present the day of the ruling in the form of supporters and protestors. This freedom to assemble freely is one of the most cherished of rights in America’s democratic system. The structure and architectural composition of the Supreme Court which reflects America’s political structure of a democracy, creates an open discourse between the private realm of citizens and the public realm of the government. This discourse was further driven by the presence of the news media, who granted access to this controversy to an American audience not physically present on the plaza but consciously aware.

When we analyze the location of this controversy, it is seen as an ideal location for the protest of DOMA not only because it is the place the ruling was dealt but it is contradictory to the change that protestors are trying encourage. The court represents the strict American notion of marriage, defined by the law. Logically when you want to voice your opinions with the added intention of gathering attention and possibly a solution, you go to places where it is not as accepted or practiced (Cowen 2004). This allows for opinions to be heard and addressed in a broader setting and opens the ideas to people who they would otherwise never reach. The protest surrounding DOMA were presented as not only an issue that gay Americans should notice, but the entire nation.

The Supreme Court Building, as it is known today was constructed from 1929 to 1935. The Court sits facing west of First Street, with an oblong plaza in front. It is located directly across from the U.S Capitol building and adjacent to the Jefferson Building and the Derkson-Hart Senate Office Buildings. The architect Cass Gilbert employed Roman architectural elements as similar to other buildings on Capitol Hill, recalling a Greco-Roman temple. The building as well as the plaza is symmetrical. The space is arranged with hierarchical considerations. The plaza is elevated slightly above the sidewalk and enclosed with low walls. The approach follows with a series of steps leading onto an octastyle portico. Ornaments depicting mythological elements or justice personified as a woman are incorporated into the friezes or low relief panels. All modeled from gathered marble from Vermont, Georgia, and Alabama. The axial relationship from the plaza is continued on throughout the building, culminating at the Supreme Court chambers in the back. (Scott 1993) The Court represents architecture as a tool to promote political change through transparency. The arrangement of the plaza on the same axis of the courtroom reflects how the assembly of citizens in the public space influences the decisions of the government who rule behind a transparent screen. With laws that are intended to serve those it governs, the architecture of the Supreme Court is explicit in revealing this relationship.

oldcapitolprisongoogleearth
A rendered model of The Supreme Court overlaid on an image from Google maps. This image shows the proximity of the court premises to the street.
http://deadconfederates.com/2011/07/03/1865-galveston-in-google-earth/

Architecture, when related with protest is a stage. The plaza of the Supreme Court is a perfect example of such.  Within a city there are places that are designated for the public to openly share their thoughts and suggestions (Cowen 2004). By being elevated above the sidewalk, the public who assemble are just as much actors on a stage as they are citizens attempting to attract the attention of legislators. This particular group of citizens occupy an intermediary space, where they permit their private views to be discussed in a public arena, therefore enacting change through awareness. Protestors face the sidewalk, addressing passing pedestrians with chants and signs. The message needs to be received by both the government and the greater public equally. The arrangement of the plaza responds to this necessity, by incorporating a wide entrance onto the premise and has abandoned visual distractions or monumental statues, ensuring a bare and open space.

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A detailed plan drawing of the plaza including its enclosure wall and raised platform from the sidewalk. Image source credit. The Dunlap Society. Supreme Court Plaza Drawing. Photograph. The Architecture of Washington, D.C. Volume I. By The Dunlap Society.

The Courtroom is arranged as most American courtrooms are. The Judges sit on a raised podium behind a long bench, while the prosecution and defense are assigned to sit facing these arbitrators of the law. The public sits silently but observant behind a railing that separates them from the players of the case, but still participants(Greenberg 1987). Law in a democratic society is impartial and true, serving and judging every citizen and official equally. It promotes inclusion and ratification from the citizens. It is their law and they should decide how it is structured and implemented. Inside is a place of control. The behavior of the people involved in the case or who are permitted to enter the building is regulated. There is an expectation that the protocol associated with entering a government building is to be adhered to. This is noted in the arrangement of the plan and the necessity for permission to enter certain areas. While in contrast the architecture of the outside allows of freedom and inclusion. It is understood that the plaza is completely open and that there are no restrictions regarding its accessibility. There is an interior and exterior condition that is indicative of the Supreme Court’s physical accessibility to certain people, although it remains open in the analytical sense.

scan01
First Floor Plan of the Supreme Court Building that notes the axial relationship between its plaza, porch, lobby, and courtroom. The Dunlap Society. Supreme Court Plan. Photograph. The Architecture of Washington, D.C. Volume I. By The Dunlap Society.

Historically protest has been influenced, sometimes favorably, by architecture.  Most notable of these cases is the 1963 March on Washington, which was located between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument. Generally accepted as the catalyst for the passing of the Civil Rights Act the next year, the march was a demonstration against racial inequality that attracted about a quarter of a million attendees and the place where Dr. Martin Luther King delivered his famous ‘I Have a Dream’ speech (Ross). The generally large public space between these two monuments and the reflecting pool could accommodate the large crowd, but also permitted them as well as the media to be directly addressed by the speakers at the rally who were positioned on the steps of the Memorial. Arguably the final verdict of this case as well as DOMA was influenced by those who assembled. The government is pushed to reevaluate its method of governing when its people fervently protest. Architecture becomes a tool of empowerment and can be redefined for the needs of the protestors.

130820092502_march_on_washington
Martin Luther King Jr. addressing the people, during the march on Washington. http://www.thv11.com/news/article/276599/2/Marching-on-Washington-is-an-American-tradition

Although the official verdict is decided from within the courthouse walls, the decision is heavily influenced by the actions of the people outside. Protest and public opposition plays an essential role in determining the outcome of a court case in America’s democratic society.  Space arouses a sense of freedom; more space means more freedom, and the courthouse steps have become a popular place for people to voice their opinions. This elevated space acts as a stage for individuals to voice their opinions. It is a place accessible to anyone. The infinite space of the steps contrasts the contained space inside the courthouse inside the public has limited access, and here space becomes a place of power. People no longer maintain the same freedoms the exterior space offers. The confining walls of the courtroom arrange individuals in a position of hierarchy giving the greatest authority to the judge. Architecture today discourages social equality; from the way in which buildings are constructed to the programmatic functions of the buildings themselves. We focus more on constructing a society which isolates individuals instead of encouraging interaction.America’s political realm includes a separation of federal and state law. The removal of DOMA, while granting same sex couples recognition under federal law, did not take away state’s rights to rule as individuals on the matter of same sex unions. Despite this Federal Law remains an umbrella of influence, since June the states of California, Minnesota, Rhode Island, and Delaware have legalized gay marriage and as public opinion makes the gradual shift to acceptance of same sex unions it can be expected that more states will follow.

RESEARCH RESOURCES

Journalism

Botelho, Greg. “Victory for lesbian, years after her longtime partner’s death.” CNN, June 26,

2013. (Accessed September 15, 2013). http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/27/us/new-york-doma-windsor/index.html

CNN traces back the case filing that initiated DOMA’s reemergence into public discussion. It recounts how one woman’s struggle to be acknowledged as a partner in a union that would be considered a marriage by universal definitions was inspired to sue the government. This case shows that the most impactful changes that have occurred in American civil rights history have started from small individual or group actions.

 

Desmond, Joan. EWTN News, “The National Catholic Register.” (Accessed September 8, 2013.)

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/supreme-court-overturns-part-of-doma-dismisses-proposition-8-case/.

An alternative view of the DOMA ruling, allowing for an opposing view based on a religious perspective. In this article Desmond cites various sources, specifically those from the Catholic Church and presents their arguments against the rulings based on what they believe will be the moral and cultural implications.

 

Encyclopedia Entries

Koppelman, Andrew. “Defense of Marriage Act (1996).” Major Acts of Congress. 2004.

Encyclopedia.com. (September 15, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407400070.html

Koppelman explains how the government’s ruling on what constitutes and legal marriage had influences on later years. This article details how DOMA was passed after the state of Hawaii, in 1993 tried to make same-sex marriage legal. After DOMA’s introduction this was overthrown. From then on the act was cited as a defense against same sex unions.

 

Ross, Shmuel, ed. infoplease. Pearson Education, s.v. “Civil Rights March on Washington.”

http://www.infoplease.com/spot/marchonwashington.html (accessed September 21, 2013).

This is a brief explanation of the March on Washington and includes facts about the location, attendees, speakers, and historical significance.

Scholarly Articles

“Thomas Jefferson the Architect of a Nation.” (Accessed September 9, 2013.)

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/jeff/jeffarch.html.

The idea that “classicism is the language, but is elastic and capable of change and growth,” is reflected in the design of the Supreme Court both structurally and socially. A place which sets the foundation for American government by implementing laws while promoting a setting for intellectual discussion and cultural changes as seen in the ruling of DOMA as unconstitutional.

 

Cowen, Gregory. “Street Protest Architecture – Dissent Space in Australia.” Bad Subjects. no. 65 (2004).

http://bad.eserver.org/issues/2004/65/cowan.html (accessed September 21, 2013).

Cowen argues that protest can be considered a form of public theater, performed in prominent public places. The goal is to incite people to talk and react. The Supreme Court’s architecture was not designed with the purpose to house protest, but its construction is repurposed to allow for successful uses in protest and demonstrations.

Books

Scott, Pamela, and Antoinette Lee. Buildings of the District of Columbia. New York: Oxford

University Press, 1993.

Created by the society of Architectural Historians as a part of a collection of Buildings of the United States it gives historical accounts of the creation of monumental buildings in Washington D.C accompanied by relevant maps, photographs, and drawings. The controversy site is not an isolated building, it exist as a component of Capitol Hill.  Knowing the urban planning and timeline of adjacent buildings should assist our understanding of the particular approach to civic architecture in the US capitol.

Greenberg, Allan. Symbolism in Architecture: CourtroomsThe Public Face of Architecture.

Edited by Nathan Glazer and Mark Lilla. New York: The Free Press, a Division of Macmillan, Inc, 1987.

This book is an anthology of architecture and the public sphere with pieces reflecting on how public spaces mediate between the private sphere and reality. Allan Greenberg argues that the design of the American courthouse clearly distinguishes the participants of cases and their subsequent roles. This arrangement makes the law, its introduction and use transparent. The public can observe and even object to the laws passed by the state and are witnesses to how it is used.

Hirst, Paul . “Space and Power: Architecture, Politics, and War .” (2005).

The idea that space becomes a resource for power is initiated in the very agenda of the Supreme Court, a place where the hierarchy of our judicial system can be seen clearly in something as simple as the configuration of individuals around the room. The court reinforces a hierarchical system with the judge at the front of the room looking down upon a defendant, plaintiff, jury and the community.

Orthographic Documentation

http://living-in-washingtondc.com/images/supremecourt/supremecourt-map.pdf

Map of Capitol Hill

http://graphics.latimes.com/usmap-gay-marriage-chronology/

Map of the U.S. with a timeline of states’ stances on gay marriage before and after the DOMA decision.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2012/may/08/gay-rights-united-states

Radial diagram presenting gay marriage rights by state, but also gay rights as it extends to different facets of society including adoption restrictions, hospital visitations, employment, and schools.

 

Video and Audio

Bolduan, Kate. “CNN: Inside the Supreme Court” Recorded 12 23 2010. CNN. video,

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Unyswl36q8w.

CNN’s Kate Bolduan takes the viewer on a tour of The Supreme Court.  The tour explains the historical background that surrounds its construction as well as notable features and rooms. This video clarifies how it is used a majority of the time and explains the added security measures in the form of more restricted accessibility.

 

Journalism

Botelho, Greg. “Victory for lesbian, years after her longtime partner’s death.” CNN, June 26,

2013. (Accessed September 15, 2013). http://www.cnn.com/2013/03/27/us/new-york-doma-windsor/index.html

CNN traces back the case filing that initiated DOMA’s reemergence into public discussion. It recounts how one woman’s struggle to be acknowledged as a partner in a union that would be considered a marriage by universal definitions was inspired to sue the government. This case shows that the most impactful changes that have occurred in American civil rights history have started from small individual or group actions.

 

Desmond, Joan. EWTN News, “The National Catholic Register.” (Accessed September 8, 2013.)

http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/supreme-court-overturns-part-of-doma-dismisses-proposition-8-case/.

An alternative view of the DOMA ruling, allowing for an opposing view based on a religious perspective. In this article Desmond cites various sources, specifically those from the Catholic Church and presents their arguments against the rulings based on what they believe will be the moral and cultural implications.

Encyclopedia Entries

Koppelman, Andrew. “Defense of Marriage Act (1996).” Major Acts of Congress. 2004.

Encyclopedia.com. (September 15, 2013). http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1G2-3407400070.html

Koppelman explains how the government’s ruling on what constitutes and legal marriage had influences on later years. This article details how DOMA was passed after the state of Hawaii, in 1993 tried to make same-sex marriage legal. After DOMA’s introduction this was overthrown. From then on the act was cited as a defense against same sex unions.

 

Scholarly Articles

“Thomas Jefferson the Architect of a Nation.” (Accessed September 9, 2013.)

http://xroads.virginia.edu/~cap/jeff/jeffarch.html.

The idea that “classicism is the language, but is elastic and capable of change and growth,” is reflected in the design of the Supreme Court both structurally and socially. A place which sets the foundation for American government by implementing laws while promoting a setting for intellectual discussion and cultural changes as seen in the ruling of DOMA as unconstitutional.

 

Books

Scott, Pamela, and Antoinette Lee. Buildings of the District of Columbia. New York: Oxford

University Press, 1993.

Created by the society of Architectural Historians as a part of a collection of Buildings of the United States it gives historical accounts of the creation of monumental buildings in Washington D.C accompanied by relevant maps, photographs, and drawings. The controversy site is not an isolated building, it exist as a component of Capitol Hill.  Knowing the urban planning and timeline of adjacent buildings should assist our understanding of the particular approach to civic architecture in the US capitol.

Greenberg, Allan. Symbolism in Architecture: CourtroomsThe Public Face of Architecture.

Edited by Nathan Glazer and Mark Lilla. New York: The Free Press, a Division of Macmillan, Inc, 1987.

This book is an anthology of architecture and the public sphere with pieces reflecting on how public spaces mediate between the private sphere and reality. Allan Greenberg argues that the design of the American courthouse clearly distinguishes the participants of cases and their subsequent roles. This arrangement makes the law, its introduction and use transparent. The public can observe and even object to the laws passed by the state and are witnesses to how it is used.

 

Hirst, Paul . “Space and Power: Architecture, Politics, and War .” (2005).

The idea that space becomes a resource for power is initiated in the very agenda of the Supreme Court, a place where the hierarchy of our judicial system can be seen clearly in something as simple as the configuration of individuals around the room. The court reinforces a hierarchical system with the judge at the front of the room looking down upon a defendant, plaintiff, jury and the community.

 

Orthographic Documentation

http://living-in-washingtondc.com/images/supremecourt/supremecourt-map.pdf

Map of Capitol Hill

http://graphics.latimes.com/usmap-gay-marriage-chronology/

Map of the U.S. with a timeline of states’ stances on gay marriage before and after the DOMA decision.

http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2012/may/08/gay-rights-united-states

Radial diagram presenting gay marriage rights by state, but also gay rights as it extends to different facets of society including adoption restrictions, hospital visitations, employment, and schools.

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