In a pair of decisions addressing perhaps the most discussed topic in America, the Supreme Court weighed in on same-sex marriage and federal benefits for legally married same-sex couples.
California's Proposition 8 was defeated for the reason many thought it would -- standing -- while the Defense of Marriage Act fell in a narrow 5-4 decision that produced multiple dissents.
The ramifications of these decisions are huge. Because of the DOMA ruling, federal benefits will now be extended to legally married same-sex couples throughout this nation. As for Perry, the Prop 8 case, the impact is more limited. Californians will now join a number of other states in allowing same-sex marriage, while the battle for nationwide equality will continue to be fought state-by-state (or until another case is brought with proper standing).
United States v. Windsor (The DOMA, Sec. 3 Case)
Justice Kennedy, writing for the majority, first held that standing does exist. He then wrote:
"The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity."
Both Scalia and Roberts wrote dissents questioning whether the case should've been heard at all, as they felt that the House of Representatives' Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) lacked standing. Scalia stated that the "Court is eager -- hungry -- to tell everyone its view of the legal question at the heart of this case," but separation of powers and standing issues should have precluded it from being heard at all.
Chief Justice Roberts, in arguing that DOMA was a constitutional means of providing a necessary uniform definition of marriage, notes that the federal definition was shared by all 50 states and every nation in the world at the time of its passing.
Alito's dissent argues that standing does exist, per INS v. Chadha, because BLAG, as members of the legislature that passed the law, have the right to defend it. However, Alito would also hold that DOMA itself is a constitutional means of allowing the representatives of the people to define marriage.
Hollingsworth v. Perry (The Prop 8 Case)
It was a simple ruling:
"We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here."
No standing means the original decision holds, Proposition 8 is dead, and California achieves marital equality by default. The impact of today's ruling may affect Illinois immediately, as at least one county has already conceded that laws withholding same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. Private parties cannot "pinch hit" for the government when it chooses not to fight on behalf of a law that it finds to be unconstitutional.
Future of Same-Sex Marriage Nationwide
Same-sex marriage will now be fought on a state-by-state basis, which some argue might be a more desirable path for marital equality. Comparing it to the backlash against abortion catalyzed by the court's ruling in Roe v. Wade, Anthony Kreis, for The Huffington Post, argues that the slow path is better. For better or worse, that is the path that must be taken per today's ruling.
June 27, Editor's Note: To clarify our headline, the provision of DOMA that met its demise was Section 3, which defines marriage in a heterosexual context. The Court noted that Section 2, however, was not challenged in the Windsor lawsuit and remains on the books. It allows states to circumvent full faith and credit and refuse to recognize legal same-sex marriages from other states.
- United States v. Windsor (U.S. Supreme Court)
- Hollingsworth v. Perry (U.S. Supreme Court)
- Minn. Rep. Tweets 'Uncle Thomas' Quip; Didn't Know it Was Racist? (FindLaw's U.S. Supreme Court Blog)