In what will be marked as an incredibly historic day for LGBT rights, the US Supreme Court has approved same-sex marriage at a federal level by voting against Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act.
The decisions made in the Supreme Court earlier today mean that same-sex marriages are legal once again in California, while the federal ban on equal marriage has been lifted. While this does not mean that same-sex marriage is now implemented across the US, it allows for other states to introduce it without being concerned with a ban at federal level.
The Defense of Marriage Act, better known as DOMA and signed into law by then President Bill Clinton, defined marriage as being between one man and one woman. The Act was overturned today by five votes to four, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy writing the majority opinion.
“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,” wrote Justice Kennedy. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
SCOTUSblog quickly afterwards published this ‘plain English’ explanation of today’s events:
“After the two same-sex couples filed their challenge to Proposition 8 in federal court in California, the California government officials who would normally have defended the law in court, declined to do so. So the proponents of Proposition 8 stepped in to defend the law, and the California Supreme Court (in response to a request by the lower court) ruled that they could do so under state law. But today the Supreme Court held that the proponents do not have the legal right to defend the law in court. As a result, it held, the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the intermediate appellate court, has no legal force, and it sent the case back to that court with instructions for it to dismiss the case.”
President Obama also released a statement on the events, branding DOMA as “discrimination enshrined in law”:
“We welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.
“On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages — changes that.”
The vote on DOMA was also welcomed on this side of the Atlantic, with Dublin-based LGBT advocacy group GLEN’s Kieran Rose saying: “This is a fantastic outcome from the US Supreme Court. Lesbian and gay married couples will now have constitutionally-mandated equal treatment in the United States”.
“The ruling is a pivotal moment in the achievement of equality for lesbian and gay people in the US,” Rose continued, “and the decision will echo across the world. A very strong message of inclusion, value and equality has been sent to lesbian and gay people everywhere.”
Many well known figures and celebrities across the world have also voiced their joy and celebration over today’s decision, including California resident, Ellen DeGeneres:
It’s a supremely wonderful day for equality. Prop 8 is over, and so is DOMA. Congratulations everyone. And I mean everyone.
— Ellen DeGeneres (@TheEllenShow) June 26, 2013
Legal scholar Jeffrey Toobin told CNN in an interview that the DOMA case is an “immense victory” for supporters of marriage equality. On Prop. 8, he said, the court did not go as far as campaigners may have liked.
“The court could have said all 50 states should have gay marriage,” Toobin said. They didn’t but it “certainly looks like the court may be moving in that direction.”