One of the many effects of Wednesday’s DOMA ruling is that it really puts the focus on those states that allow civil unions or domestic partnerships but not actual same-sex marriage (New Jersey, Illinois, Wisconsin, Oregon, Nevada, Hawaii and Colorado). Legal challenges in those states will certainly be filed, and if they’ve already been filed the case just became much stronger.
Why is that? Because of equal protection. The DOMA ruling now ensures that married same-sex couples will get a huge range of federal benefits, but only those who are actually married will get them. That means that the argument that civil unions provide all the benefits of marriage in those seven states is now obviously falsified. Those in civil unions will not qualify for those federal benefits.
In New Jersey, for instance, the state Supreme Court ruled that the legislature had to provide either full marriage equality or civil unions and they opted for civil unions. That law is already being challenged in court as a “separate but equal” accommodation that isn’t really equal. And now that inequality becomes absolutely undeniable. If the state constitution requires equality, the state can no longer pretend to have satisfied that requirement. And it creates a possible legal action against the federal government as well.
So while the DOMA ruling may seem limited on the surface, its effects are really quite far-reaching.