Supreme Court rules twice for same-sex marriage rights

June 26, 2013
Bay News

In significant but incomplete victories for gay rights, the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a provision of a federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples and cleared the way for the resumption of same-sex marriage in California.

The justices issued two 5-4 rulings in their final session of the term. One decision wiped away part of a federal anti-gay marriage law that has kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits.

The other was a technical legal ruling that said nothing at all about same-sex marriage, but left in place a trial court's declaration that California's Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

That outcome probably will allow state officials to order the resumption of same-sex weddings in the nation's most populous state in about a month.The Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that legally married same-sex couples should get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.

Gay rights supporters cheer rulings

Chanting "DOMA is Dead," supporters of same-sex marriage burst into cheers and some wept openly upon hearing word of the Supreme Court's decision Wednesday striking down a federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Some in the crowd hugged and others jumped up and down just after 10 a.m. EDT Wednesday when the decision was announced. Many people were on their cell phones monitoring Twitter, news sites and blogs for word of the decision. And there were cheers as runners came down the steps with the decision in hand and turned them over to reporters who quickly flipped through the decisions.

Chants of "Thank you" and "USA" came from the crowd as plaintiffs in the cases descended the court's marbled steps

Sarah Prager, 26, cried and was shaking when she heard the news, and she and a stranger hugged. Prager, who married her wife in Massachusetts in 2011, said she was in shock. "Oh that's so good. It's just really good," she said.

"I'm in shock. I didn't expect DOMA to be struck down," she said through tears and shaking. Prager was referring to the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Gay rights activists had argued that the law effectively denied same-sex married couples the federal benefits that heterosexual couples enjoyed.

Court issues rulings Wednesday

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the ruling involving federal benefits.

Same-sex marriage has been adopted by 12 states and the District of Columbia. Another 18,000 couples were married in California during a brief period when same-sex unions were legal there.

The court has yet to release its decision on California's ban on same-sex marriage.

"Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways," Kennedy said.

"DOMA's principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal," he said.

He was joined by the court's four liberal justices.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

Scalia read his dissent aloud. Scalia said the court should not have decided the case.

But, given that it did, he said, "we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation."

The law was passed in 1996 by broad majorities in the House of Representatives and the Senate, and signed into law by Democratic President Bill Clinton. Since then, many lawmakers who voted for the law and Clinton have renounced their support.

Reaction

President Barack Obama

"This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better. 

"So 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."

Sen. Marco Rubio (R) FL:

“I believe the Supreme Court made a serious mistake today when it overstepped its important, but limited role.  I do not believe that President Clinton and overwhelming bipartisan majorities of both houses of Congress acted with malice or intent to ‘demean’ a class of people when they adopted a uniform definition of marriage for the purposes of federal law.  The Court should not have second guessed the will of the American people acting through their elected representatives without firm constitutional justifications.  The sweeping language of today’s majority opinion is more troubling than the ruling itself as it points to further interference by the Court in the years to come. Full statement

St. Pete Pride Executive Director Eric Skains:

 “This is a cause for celebration, and proof that the law, much like society, inevitably falls on the side of equality.Without all the decades of shaming and discrimination directed towards the LGBT community, there never would have been a need for a day to stand up and be seen.

"And now, a day that began out of that defiance is a celebration of the milestone towards true equality.”

Brian Winfield of Equality Florida:

"Today is a day we've been waiting a very long time for. This fight is definitely not over. In some ways, it's beginning anew today."  

"It's amazing to see how quickly things are changing. On the other hand when you're denied civil rights, it could never change fast enough."

Congressman Alcee L. Hastings (D) FL:

 “This is indeed an historic day for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) equality in this country. ... 

"Just as the discriminatory law known as ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ was ultimately repealed in 2011, DOMA and Proposition 8 were destined to fail. However, it is important to remember that our work is far from over. While these landmark decisions mean the end of DOMA and Proposition 8, there is still no guarantee that the marriage of a gay or lesbian couple will be recognized if they move from one state to another."

Terry Kemple, founder of the conservative Community Issues Council

"I think it's a real tragedy. Where the people have been allowed to vote, it's been clear that the people have been resoundingly clear that people have been in favor of a one man, one woman marriage.

"I think it's a realistic possibility that our constitutional amendment, that changed the definition of marriage between one man, one woman in the Florida constitution, will be  basically overturned based on these decisions that were made today. ... Here's the reality: The founders of America founded America on religious freedom; they didn't found it for freedom of who you want to have sex with."

Rep. Darryl Rouson, (D) St. Petersburg:

"This is a significant day for our nation.  My hope is that one day Florida will join those states in recognizing the equality of all people to marry. Today, I challenge Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican leadership in Tallahassee to do justice, walk humbly, and listen to the clarion call for marriage equality as other freedom-loving states have done.  This is about the people.”

“These are taxpaying Americans, these are patriotic Americans, these are family men and women. And they should have rights in our state as such.”

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