It was a double whammy today as the United States Supreme Court ruled (or, punted) on two historic cases involving same sex marriage equality. The court, in a 5-4 decision, struck down DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act which denied federal recognition of same sex couples legally married in states allowing such marriages and excluded those couples from over 1000 federal rights including access to benefits and also added tax burdens for such couples. In the majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy:
“DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”
Or, in a nutshell, created a ‘separate but inequal’ status for same sex couples thus violating the 5th Amendment which guarantees protection from such inequalities. Justice Kennedy was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan in the majority.
The repeal of DOMA will give same sex couples legally married in states which allow same sex marriage, the same rights as all other couples. What’s not as clear, is how this will affect couples who legally marry in a state that allows such a marriage but then move to a state that does not, for example, a couple who marry in Washington State but move to Idaho where same sex marriage is illegal. The DOMA repeal does not give same sex couples in states that do not allow or recognize same sex marriage, the right to marry in those states.
There are still many unanswered questions in this victory, and undoubtedly a lot more court cases to be heard, but the demise of DOMA is a huge step for marriage equality in this country.
The 2nd big SCOTUS announcement today, was also a major victory, despite the fact the Court sidestepped actually making a decision on Hollingsworth v. Perry, the case involving the legality of California’s ‘Proposition 8’ ban on same-sex marriage. The Court declined to make a ruling, and sent it back to the lower U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit for dismissal thus letting stand the 2010 judgement by U.S. District Chief Judge Vaughn Walker who had already ruled that Prop 8 was unconstitutional.
The decision by the Court to “punt” on making a ruling hinged on the fact that the State of California declined to defend Proposition 8. The case was brought by private individuals who the Court ruled, lacked the legal power to appeal the earlier judge’s order. This unusual decision by the Supreme Court was reached by a 5-4 decision with some very unlikely justices lining up to support the dismissal. Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan in the majority to send the case back to the lower court for dismissal, and Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito and Sotomayor all voting that the Court should have ruled on the case. The unusual split with conservative justices and liberal justices siding with one another on each side of the decision, surprised many SCOTUS watchers.
As for California, Governor Jerry Brown has already ordered counties to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples. Today’s ruling also legalizes the marriages already conducted in California during the brief period between the State’s legislature authorizing marriage equality, and the passage of Prop 8, which banned such marriages. in 2008.
There is much rejoicing nationwide as the LGBTQ and allies communities celebrate this double win, with California leading the way as they regain the freedom to marry. Locally, a Victory Celebration is planned to occur from 5pm to 6:30pm on the steps of the U.S. Appeals Court at 1010 5th Avenue (5th Ave & Madison, across from Seattle Public Library).
Pride just got a lot more Pridey this year…you can also expect to get more marriage announcements in the mail. Many long time couples have held off on legally marrying until the appeal of DOMA, both for ideological reasons and financial. It’s time for another round of “Big Gay Weddings”!