Politics

Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA

Pro and anti-Proposition 8 protesters rally in...

Pro and anti-Proposition 8 protesters rally in front of the San Francisco City Hall as the California Supreme Court holds a session in the to determine the definition of marriage (Strauss v. Horton cases). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Wednesday, June 26, was a great day for marriage equality in the U.S.

In a 5-4 ruling in United States v. Windsor, the court struck down a provision of the 17-year-old Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denies federal benefits — like Social Security benefits or the ability to file joint tax returns — to same-sex couples legally married.

“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,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, according to Huffington Post. “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.”

DOMA, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, prevented same-sex couples whose marriages were recognized by their home state from receiving the hundreds of benefits available to other married couples under federal law. During the Obama administration, the Justice Department initially defended DOMA in court despite the administration’s desire to repeal it. But the Justice Department changed course in early 2011, finding that the law was unconstitutional and declining to defend it any longer.

On Wednesday, the court’s majority ruled that the power of the individual state in defining marriage “is of central relevance” and the decision to grant same-sex couples the right to marry is “of immense import.” The state, the court ruled, “used its historic and essential authority to define the marital relation in this way, its role and its power in making the decision enhanced the recognition, dignity, and protection of the class in their own community.” The court held that DOMA “because of its reach and extent, departs from this history and tradition of reliance on state law to define marriage.”

While many people praised the ruling there were some who criticized it. Representative Michele Bachmann, Republican from Minnesota and a Tea Party favorite, issued a blistering statement:

“No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted,” Ms. Bachmann said in a statement. “For thousands of years of recorded human history, no society has defended the legal standard of marriage as anything other than between man and woman.” She said the court action “will undermine the best interest of children and the best interests of the United States.”

Chick-fil-A President and COO Dan Cathy posted and then deleted a seemingly anti-homosexual statement on Twitter yesterday following the Supreme Court’s landmark ruling supporting marriage equality. He tweeted:

Sad day for our nation; founding fathers would be ashamed of our gen. to abandon wisdom of the ages re: cornerstone of strong societies.

Although the tweet is no longer visible on Cathy’s feed, there is an archive of it over at Topsy.

Video Produced by The Texas Tribune.

At the same time, the court ruled 5-4 that the defendants in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, which considered the constitutionality of California’s same-sex marriage ban (called Proposition 8), have no standing in court. Supporters of Prop. 8 brought the case to the Supreme Court after a lower court struck down the law but California’s governor and attorney general declined to defend it. By dismissing the case on procedural grounds, the court passed up the opportunity to issue a significant ruling on the issue of marriage.

The practical impact of dismissing the Prop. 8 case is limited. It leaves the lower court ruling striking down Prop. 8 in place, applying statewide at best. However, the ruling may apply only to couples who directly challenged Prop. 8, or the counties in which they originally made those challenges. The lawyers who defended Prop. 8 said Wednesday that they are committed to seeing that Prop. 8 is enforced in the state, according to CBS News.

“We are happy Prop. 8 remains the law of California,” Austin Nimocks, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said outside of the court.

Shortly after DOMA was struck down, President Barack Obama released a statement celebrating the decision. “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,” he said.

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