Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA, Dismisses Prop. 8 Appeal For Lack Of Standing
On the whole, a complete victory for advocates of same-sex marriage today at the Supreme Court.
Within the hour, the Supreme Court has issued two rulings on the issue of same-sex marriage that, at least in their practical impact, will be quite historic.
First, in United States v. Windsor, the Court held that Section Three of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional:
(Reuters) – The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a central portion of a federal law that restricted the definition of marriage to opposite-sex couples in a major victory for the gay rights movement.
The ruling, on a 5-4 vote, means that legally married gay men and women are entitled to claim the same federal benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples.
The court was due to decide within minutes a second case concerning a California law that bans same-sex marriage in the state.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.
“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Kennedy wrote.
Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote in close decisions, also said the law imposes “a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states.”
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia both wrote dissenting opinions.
In his dissent, Roberts wrote that the court in the coming Proposition 8 case will not reach the issue of constitutionality of state laws that limit the definition of marriage.
By striking down Section 3 of the law, the court clears the way to more than 1,100 federal benefits, rights and burdens linked to marriage status.
Second, in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court, as I expected they would, dismissed the appeal for lack of standing, meaning that the original ruling declaring the law unconstitutional stands and, effectively, same-sex marriage is now legal in California:
The U.S. Supreme Court today paved the way for same-sex couples to marry soon in California, effectively leaving intact a lower-court ruling that struck down the state’s voter-approved ban on gay marriage.
In a ruling that assures further legal battles, the high court found that backers of Proposition 8 did not have the legal right to defend the voter-approved gay marriage ban in place of the governor and attorney general, who have refused to press appeals of a federal judge’s 2010 ruling finding the law unconstitutional.
The Supreme Court ruling, which found it had no legal authority to decide the merits of a challenge to Proposition 8, sends the case back to that original decision — and the only question now is how quickly same-sex couples can marry and whether that ruling will have immediate statewide effect.
The 5-4 ruling was written by Chief Justice John Roberts.
In early 2010, former Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker held a three-week trial in which Proposition 8 backers defended the law without any help from California’s top officials. Walker later declared the law unconstitutional, in the process becoming the target of gay marriage foes when he publicly revealed he was in a long-term same-sex relationship, a fact that had been well-known in Bay Area legal circles.
The 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Walker last year, albeit in a narrower ruling that found Proposition 8 unconstitutionally stripped away the previous right to marry in California without any justification. That led to the Supreme Court’s intervention in the case.
The Proposition 8 case has been clouded by a number of legal intricacies, notably whether the ballot measure’s sponsors even have a right to defend the California law in lieu of Gov. Jerry Brown and Attorney General Kamala Harris, who consider it unconstitutional.
How quickly the holding of the District Court in Hollingsworth gets implemented in California depends on a number of factors, including how willing individual Court Clerk’s are to comply with the opinion itself. There may be some additional litigation necessary to nudge things along, but, in the end, I suspect that it won’t be very long before the nation’s most populous state, representing 11% of the nation’s population, is the newest state to fully recognize same-sex marriage.
I’ll have further updates later today on both opinions, but as an initial thought I’d say that this largely turned out as I thought it would (although I claim no prescience, I could’ve just as easily been wrong), and that it’s a great day for individual liberty. It is, I think, no small coincidence that today is the 10th anniversary of the Court’s decision in Lawrence v. Texas, the decision which struck down sodomy laws nationwide and, arguably, helped set in motion the events that have led to today. The legal battles are not over, of course, but after today the end result seems incredibly clear.
Update: Here’s the opinion in U.S. v. Windsor, the DOMA case:
And here’s the opinion in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Proposition 8 case: