Today the Supreme Court handed down two decisions affirming marriage rights for same-sex couples in the cases of US v Windsor and Hollingsworth v Perry.
In a narrow 5-4 decision with Justices Kennedy, Breyer, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan in the majority, the Court ruled in United States v Windsor that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) statute prohibiting state recognized same-sex married couples from receiving federal benefits was unconstitutional. In an opinion written [PDF] by Kennedy, the court determined,
“DOMA’s unusual deviation from the usual tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage here operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with the federal recognition of their marriages. This is strong evidence of a law having the purpose and effect of disapproval of that class. The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.”
Justices Thomas, Scalia, Alito and Chief Justice Roberts dissented.
In a second 5-4 decision, the Court determined that the case upholding California’s Proposition 8, Hollingsworth v Perry, did not have legal standing and returned the case to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals with the order to dismiss it. With Chief Justice Roberts writing the opinion and joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Scalia, and Sotomayor, the Court determined that the opponents of same-sex marriage did not have the legal standing to challenge the overturning of Proposition 8 by the California Supreme Court. In order to challenge the ruling, either the state needed to challenge the ruling (which it declined to do) or the challenging party needed to experience “concrete and particularized injury” as a result of the decision. The Justices found that the plaintiffs had not demonstrated injury as a result, and therefore neither the Supreme Court nor the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had the authority to take the case. Justices Kennedy, Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor dissented.
The decision was widely celebrated by LGBT activists, allies, and supporters. Rea Carrey of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said in a statement, “Today’s historic decisions are a significant leap forward for freedom and justice for same-sex couples and their families, the LGBT community and for our nation-and a lot more work needs to be done to deliver marriage equality to the rest of our nation’s same-sex couples and their families and full equality in every other respect for all LGBT people.”
President Obama said in a statement issued from Air Force One, “I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it… The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts: when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.”
Katherine Spillar, Executive Vice President of the Feminist Majority Foundation and executive editor of Ms. magazine, based in California, added, “Along with millions of other feminists, Ms. magazine and the Feminist Majority Foundation are celebrating the two U.S. Supreme Court decisions today that declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and let stand a lower court decision that California’s Proposition 8 is also unconstitutional… Feminists in California fought like hell to defeat Proposition 8 when it came on the ballot in 2008. I joined the board of Equality California, along with Feminist Majority Foundation board member Dolores Huerta, to strengthen the connections between the feminist and LGBT communities in the major human rights issue.”
Eleanor Smeal, President of the Feminist Majority Foundation, said “At last Prop 8 and DOMA are finished. Marriage equality lives in California, the biggest state in the nation. And the federal government must recognize marriage equality in 13 states and the District of Columbia, covering 30% of the nation’s population. There is still work to do, but victory is in sight. On the 10th anniversary of Lawrence v. Texas, the Court takes another major step towards equality.”
Media Resources: Hollingsworth v Perry 6/26/2013; National Gay and Lesbian Task Force 6/26/2013; Office of the Press Secretary 6/26/2013; United States v Windsor 6/26/2013; Feminist Majority Foundation 6/26/2013