Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA, 5-4; Technicality Will Allow Gay Marriage in California

The Supreme Court has struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which let states and the federal government refuse to recognize gay marriages performed in other states. From the SCOTUSblog liveblog coverage:

DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.

“DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled ot recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.”

The opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages.

There is a “careful consideration” standard: In determining whether a law is motivated by improper animus or purpose, discriminations of an unusual character especially require careful consideration. DOMA cannot survive under these principles.

To be clear: Windsor does not establish a constitutional right to same sex marriage. It was important to the outcome that the couple in the case was legally married under state law. The equal protection violation arose from Congress’s disrespecting that decision by New York to allow the marriage.

Here’s a link to the opinion.

[UPDATE 10:35 am] AP reports:

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.

Basically, this is a legalistic punt—the court is neither affirming nor denying a broader national right to same-sex marriage. (Although the DOMA ruling means that where it’s legal, other states and the feds must recognize it.) Because the state of California refused to actually defend Prop 8, private citizens defended the case in court instead. SCOTUS today says they didn’t have “standing” to defend the state—or to sue to appeal to the Supreme Court—which means the litigants against Prop 8 have won by default. Which means we’ll probably be back at the Supreme Court again in the next few years, to settle whether there is a national right to gay marriage or not.

So today’s bottom line: Gay marriage is more protected than it was yesterday, but still not full accepted as a right. States are allowed to allow it or not, and only those states in which gay marriage is legal must recognize marriages performed in other states. But states cannot refuse to recognize marriages performed in other states, however, and neither can the feds can no longer refuse to recognize same-sex marriages —which means, among other things, gay military spouses can finally start to receive benefits.

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  • dagbat

    I believe today’s DOMA decision was limited to only those same-sex “marriages” already recognized in the states that allow same-sex marriage. In other words this is still essentially a state’s rights issue, which is the way it should be in my opinion. As to inter state recognition of same sex marriages I am not sure how the decision applies. If state A does not recognize same sex marriages but state B does, and a gay couple is married in state B but is now living in state A, will they be
    considered married by state A? Personally I think it is folly to try to redefine the institution of marriage under the guise of gaining full financial, legal, and societal equality. It is an aggressive and seeming hateful and
    spiteful strategy to the vast majority who believe in traditional marriage and it goes against the grain of the Golden Rule. Instead it would be better to push for full equality by leveraging existing secular avenues to marriage and getting them fully vested the same as traditional marriage. Why should a civil marriage be treated differently from a traditional marriage? Change the rule to allow same sex civil union marriages, that have all of the rights, privileges, and status of marriage. A couple married in a civil union ceremony is just as
    married as a couple married in a traditional marriage ceremony. It is sad that we can not find a way to come together on this very polarizing issue. Gays should have the same rights as straights. We are all Americans equal and deserving of the same rights and privileges
    as the next person.