By Jeffrey Folker
In two decisions handed down by the Supreme Court of the United States, supporters of equal rights for same-sex and non-traditional marriage scored a key victory on Wednesday, June 26. The decisions, both split 5-4, mark a great expansion of rights for same-sex couples.
The first decision of the morning came in the United States v. Windsor, with Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Elena Kagen in the majority. United States v. Windsor centered on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), signed into law by President Bill Clinton in September of 1996, states “No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship,” and later “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” In writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy declared DOMA to be unconstitutional in that it violates the Fifth Amendment (“no person shall…be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”).
Immediately after the ruling on the Defense of Marriage act came the court’s decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry, where the court ruled that California’s Proposition 8 had no standing in court. Prop. 8, as it has come to be known, reads as follows: “Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” By throwing the case out on procedural grounds rather than declaring it to be unconstitutional, the court missed an opportunity to issue a definitive ruling on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage. At the same time, throwing the case out allows the ruling of the lower courts to stand (which struck down Prop. 8 for violating the equal protection clause).
While the two decisions mark an immediate win for supporters of same-sex marriage, only time will tell the lasting impact. For now, let’s celebrate.
H.R. 3396 (104th): Defense of Marriage Act