The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to reach long-awaited verdicts on Wednesday concerning both California’s Proposition 8 banning same sex marriage and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which does the same on the federal level.
Prop. 8 was passed in California in 2008 following a state Supreme Court ruling granting same sex couples the right to marry and was challenged by two same sex couples arguing that it was an affront to their individual liberties. The case heard oral arguments on the matter in March 2013.
The challenge to DOMA, which was signed into law in 1996, was brought by Edith Windsor, whose attorneys told the high court in March she was forced to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes following the death of her partner, Thea Spyer, which Windsor says violated her constitutional right to equal protection. A federal appeals court ruled in October 2012 that Section 3 of the law, which defines marriage as being between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional.
Update, 10:06 a.m. EST: SCOTUSBlog reported that the court struck down DOMA in a 5-4 decision (PDF) by Justice Anthony Kennedy, arguing that it violates Fifth Amendment equal protection rules. While the ruling does not mandate same sex marriage in every state, it allows the federal government to recognize state laws legalizing it.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito and Antonin Scalia each filed separate dissents.
Update, 10:25 a.m. EST: “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 in the majority decision. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others.”
“The Court does not have before it, and the logic of its opinion does not decide, the distinct question whether the States, in the exercise of their ‘historic and essential authority to define the marital relation,’ may continue to utilize the traditional definition of marriage,” Roberts wrote in his dissent.
Update, 10:28 a.m. EST: President Barack Obama also celebrated the ruling on Twitter, writing, “Today’s DOMA ruling is a historic step forward for #MarriageEquality. #LoveIsLove”
In another 5-4 decision, (PDF) the court effectively struck down Prop. 8, vacating a ruling by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the proponents of the bill did not have the right to defend its constitutionality if state officials refused to do so.
“The Court does not question California’s sovereign right to maintain an initiative process, or the right of initiative proponents to defend their initiatives in California courts. But standing in federal court is a question of federal law, not state law,” Roberts wrote for the majority. “No matter its reasons, the fact that a State thinks a private party should have standing to seek relief for a generalized grievance cannot override this Court’s settled law to the contrary.”
Update, 10:52 a.m. EST: Colorlines reported on Wednesday that the high court’s DOMA ruling also has implications for binational LGBT couples living in California and the 13 other states currently recognizing same-sex marriage, since LGBT U.S. citizens will be allowed to apply for legal residency for their partners. Various Republicans senators currently debating a new comprehensive immigration bill have stated that they would oppose any provisions protecting LGBT couples in new legislation.
Update, 11:11 a.m. EST: Both LGBT legal advocacy group Lambda Legal and the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) celebrated the court’s rulings in separate statements on Wednesday.
“It’s an enormous victory — not just for the plaintiff, Edie Windsor — but for tens of thousands of married same-sex couples and their families,” Lambda Legal said in its statement. “Today’s decision will touch many facets of life, from health care to taxes, and from benefits at work to security in retirement.”
The ACLU said in its statement that the ruling recognized the unfairness in same sex partners being treated as “legal strangers” under DOMA.
“This is truly a day for the history books, one that will be marked by future generations as a giant step forward along our nation’s continuing path towards equality,” said Windsor’s attorney, Roberta Kaplan. “DOMA was the last law on the books that mandated discrimination against gay people by the federal government simply because they are gay. The days of ‘skim milk’ or second-class marriages for gay people are now over.”
Update, 11:41 a.m. EST: The Transgender Law center said in a statement that Wednesday’s rulings also benefit transgender people in partnerships legally considered same sex marriages.
“While our community faces many other significant challenges, marriage equality is an issue that affects many transgender people in this country,” said the center’s executive director, Masen Davis. “It’s good for all of us when the government gets out of the business of using gender to decide who gets access to certain benefits. This is a tremendous victory for the entire LGBT community. We urge the state of California to act quickly to allow same sex couples to marry again.”
[Image: “Smiling Same Sex Couple At Civil Union” via Shutterstock]