Law

Married gay couples deserve same rights, Supreme Court rules

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The Supreme Court today declared the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional, ruling that same-sex couples who are legally married deserve equal rights to the benefits under federal law that go to all other married couples. The decision came on a 5-4 split, with Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority and saying that DOMA was unconstitutional because it violated the right to liberty and to equal protection for gay couples. Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas dissented.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Kennedy wrote. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

From the New York Times:

The decision will immediately extend some federal benefits to same-sex couples, but it will also raise a series of major questions for the Obama administration about how aggressively to overhaul references to marriage throughout the many volumes that lay out the laws of the United States.


“In the majority’s telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us,” Justice Scalia wrote in his dissent. “The truth is more complicated.”

Full opinion and dissents

On Proposition 8, Chief Justice Roberts joined in a 5-4 majority to decline on procedural grounds to make a sweeping ruling on gay marriage. The defenders of Prop. 8 who brought the appeal don't have standing to appeal if California itself won't defend the law that was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court there, Roberts said.

The ruling leaves in place laws banning same-sex marriage around the nation, said the New York Times. The consequences for California "were not immediately clear, but many legal analysts say that same-sex marriages are likely to resume there in a matter of weeks." Prop. 8 was already ruled invalid and that appears to stand, leaving same-sex marriage as the law of the land in California. Since the voters passed the measure, public opinion polls in California have continued to find wide support for equal marriage rights.

"We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to," Roberts said "We decline to do so for the first time here." He was joined in the majority by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Antonin Scalia and Elena Kagan.

David Savage at the LA Times:

The Supreme Court cleared the way Wednesday for same-sex marriages to resume in California as the justices, in a procedural ruling, turned away the defenders of Proposition 8....


The court’s action, while not a sweeping ruling, sends the case back to California, where state and federal judges and the state’s top officials have said same-sex marriage is a matter of equal rights.

Full opinion and dissent

Here's a detailed analysis by the LAT's Maura Dolan on how the Prop. 8 case would play out under this kind of procedural ruling.

Gay and rights organizations welcomed the decisions as huge wins.

President Obama's statement:

I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.


This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better.

So we welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.

On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.

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.

Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa said in a statement:

Today, we have taken another momentous step on the path to full equality and dignity for all Californians and all Americans. By striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court has affirmed a basic American truth: bigotry and bias have no place in our laws. And with the Court's decision on Prop 8, California is poised to become the thirteenth state in America with full marriage equality.


Today, we celebrate a victory for love and fairness, a victory for same-sex couples who only want to follow their hearts and marry the person they love. As we move closer to a more perfect union, we will continue to make our case: if we truly believe in family values, we should value all families.


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