The Supreme Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act, defining marriage for the purposes of the federal government as being between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional. The court also let stand, on what seem to be narrow grounds, a lower court ruling that threw out as unconstitutional the California referendum in which voters rejected gay marriage.
The court said that those who appealed the ruling lacked standing to file the suit, saying nothing about the general validity of state gay marriage bans. But if opposition to gay marriage is unconstitutional both for the federal government and for state government, then it looks like same-sex marriage is going to be the law of the land.
On the ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act:
The Supreme Court Thursday struck down as unconstitutional the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in the states where they reside.
The court said it violated equal protection to provide benefits to heterosexual couples while denying them to gay couples in the 12 states plus the District of Columbia where same-sex couples may marry. The law passed by bipartisan majorities in Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton recognized marriage as only between one man and one woman.
It passed at a time when same-sex marriage was not legal anywhere in the world.
The vote on the Defense of Marriage Act was 5-4. Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the four Democratic-appointed justices in the majority.
The law “places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage,” Kennedy wrote for the court. “The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, and whose relationship the state has sought to dignify.”
On the ruling in the California case:
The Supreme Court has cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California by holding that defenders of California’s gay marriage ban did not have the right to appeal lower court rulings striking down the ban.
The court’s 5-4 vote Wednesday leaves in place the initial trial court declaration that the ban is unconstitutional. California officials probably will rely on that ruling to allow the resumption of same-sex unions in about a month’s time.
The high court itself said nothing about the validity of gay marriage bans in California and roughly three dozen other states.