WASHINGTON, D.C.—The Supreme Court dramatically advanced gay rights last Wednesday in two rulings that direct the federal government to provide equal treatment to same-sex spouses and allow the resumption of gay marriages in California.
In a pair of 5-4 rulings on the final day of the court’s term, the justices struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to gay couples married under state law, and let stand a ruling that found Proposition 8, a 2008 voter initiative that ended same-sex marriage in California, unconstitutional.
In striking down DOMA, Justice Anthony Kennedy said Congress had no business undermining a state’s decision to extend “the recognition, dignity and protection” of marriage to same-sex couples.
By excluding such couples from the rights and responsibilities of marriage contained in more than 1,000 provisions of federal law, “DOMA writes inequality into the entire United States Code,” Justice Kennedy wrote.
The DOMA ruling had immediate effects. The Obama administration said it would move swiftly to ensure same-sex married couples get the same tax and other benefits as heterosexual couples, although the process for doing so is uncertain for same-sex couples who marry in one state, then move to a state that doesn’t recognize gay marriage.
Meantime, noncitizens who are married to American same-sex partners likely would qualify for permanent resident status, lawyers said.
In California, Attorney General Kamala Harris said she would order that marriage licenses be granted to same-sex couples statewide as soon as a U.S. appeals court takes a procedural step, which could come within a month.
The Supreme Court’s rulings didn’t say whether there is a federal constitutional right to same-sex marriage, ensuring years of battles in states that bar it. Groups that believe marriage is between a man and woman said they would fight state by state to defend that definition, while the American Civil Liberties Union tapped veteran GOP strategists as part of a $10 million campaign seeking to convert Republican-led states to the gay-marriage cause.
The DOMA opinion by Justice Kennedy—joined by liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan—sparked three separate dissents from four conservative justices.
Justice Antonin Scalia read his dissent from the bench. He and others—Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas—contended the court had no jurisdiction to even hear the case, because the Obama administration already had concluded the 1996 law was unconstitutional and thus there was no dispute for the court to resolve.
As for the merits of the law, Justice Scalia said it should stand. “Favoring man-woman marriage no more ‘demeans’ and ‘humiliates’ other sexual relationships than favoring our Constitution demeans and humiliates the governmental systems of other countries,” he said.
President Barack Obama applauded the outcome. “The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts: When all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free,” he said.
Excerpt, read Historic Win For Gay Marriage –By Jess Bravin | WashPost
Related: Changing Perspectives on Gay Marriage (Infographics)
Case #1: U.S v. Windsor, No. 12-307 (June 26, 2013)
Case #2: Hollingsworth v. Perry, No. 12-144 (June 26, 2013)