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United States Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA - Prop 8 Has No Standing - Marriage Resumes in CA


Justice Anthony Kennedy announced the court's 5-4 decision in the Defense of Marriage Act case and Prop 8 Case. Justice Kennedy was joined by the four members of the court's liberal wing—Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan—while Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

WASHINGTON—A divided Supreme Court handed a victory to supporters of gay marriage, striking down a 1996 federal law that denied federal benefits to lawfully wedded same-sex couples.

The court avoided a ruling on the merits in a second gay-marriage case involving California's Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage, saying that both the Supreme Court and a federal appeals court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case. That means a federal district court's ruling striking down Proposition 8 stands, which could clear the way for same-sex marriage to resume in California.

Collectively, the rulings represent a history-making advance for the cause of gay marriage. The Supreme Court for the first time said the federal government couldn't discriminate against same-sex couples if their marriage is recognized by a state, and in the California case it declined to reverse the district court ruling recognizing a right to gay marriage.

Justice Anthony Kennedy announced the court's 5-4 decision in the Defense of Marriage Act case. Justice Kennedy was joined by the four members of the court's liberal wing—Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan—while Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The court's majority said the Defense of Marriage Act "violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government."

Justice Kennedy 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."

Justice Scalia read parts of his dissent from the bench. He said the court shouldn't have ruled on the Defense of Marriage Act at all, and he also said the court was wrong on the merits.

"By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition," he wrote.

The court's four dissenters offered three different written dissents, by Chief Justice Roberts, Justice Scalia and Justice Alito.

The ruling on Proposition 8 was 5-4, with Chief Justice Roberts writing the majority opinion. Chief Justice Roberts said Proposition 8's backers didn't have legal standing to challenge the law.

"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," Chief Justice Roberts said, alluding to the state of California's decision not to defend Proposition 8 in court.

Justice Kennedy led the dissenters in the Proposition 8 case. He didn't debate the merits of the state initiative but said he believed the Supreme Court did have jurisdiction to hear the case. He said proponents of a ballot initiative ought to be able to defend it in court when the state doesn't.

The rulings were coming amid quickly shifting public opinion on gay rights and gay marriage. A poll this year by the nonpartisan Pew Forum on Religion and Public life found that 50% of Americans support gay marriage, up from 39% in 2008. When Proposition 8 passed in 2008 with 52% of the vote, only two other states permitted gay marriage. Today, 12 states plus the District of Columbia do so.

If the Supreme Court disbands parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, what would it mean for same-sex married couples in the U.S.? WSJ's Jason Bellini has "The Short Answer."

Moreover, many elected officials and public figures who had previously been noncommittal have thrown their support behind gay marriage. In May 2012, President Barack Obama, who had previously supported civil unions but not full marriage, said he now supported marriage as well. Former President Bill Clinton, who signed the Defense of Marriage Act, now says the measure is a mistake.

In both Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act, the underlying issue is gay marriage, but the specific legal questions differ.

Both cases came to the court in an unusual posture: The federal and state governments that normally would defend their challenged laws agreed with plaintiffs and lower courts that the measures violated the U.S. Constitution.

With the Obama administration declining to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives stepped in. And when California's governor and attorney general offered no defense of Proposition 8, the private citizens who sponsored the initiative came to defend the measure.

But the Supreme Court has long held that particular conditions must be met before a party can appear in federal court, among them that it possesses a definite interest in the outcome beyond a general interest in public policy. And the justices weren't certain that either the House or the Proposition 8 backers possessed the legal standing to appear. The court specifically asked the parties to address that question in the briefs and oral argument.

Casey Oakes, 26, of Monroe, N.J., left, Dan Choyce, 21, of Sicklerville, N.J., center left, Zach Wulderk, 19, of Hammonton, N.J., and his brother Dylan Wulderk, 22, right, wait for a ruling on same sex marriage at the Supreme Court in Washington on Wednesday.

When it came to the merits of the cases, the challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act was the narrower gambit. While the challengers argued that the law violated constitutional principles of equal protection and due process, they also left room for the justices to decide the case without opining so broadly.

Family law traditionally falls under state jurisdiction, and it has been virtually unknown for the federal government to deny recognition to couples married in accordance with state law.

Standard methods of legal interpretation require the government to provide justification for discriminating against similarly situated parties, and gay-rights activists argued that no legitimate reason underlay the Defense of Marriage Act. To the contrary, as Justice Elena Kagan observed during oral arguments in March, the legislative record demonstrated that disapproval of homosexuality was a significant basis for enacting a statute designed to penalize same-sex couples.

When the Defense of Marriage Act was adopted 17 years ago, no state permitted same-sex marriage, so the law's impact was largely theoretical. But today, with a dozen states authorizing such marriages, the harm the measure inflicts on same-sex spouses has become clear. In the case before the court, New York resident Edith Windsor would have been exempt from a federal estate tax of $363,000 had her late spouse been male.

Federal district and appeals courts in New York ruled for Ms. Windsor. In parallel cases, lower federal courts in Boston reached the same result.

Paul Clement, the former George W. Bush administration solicitor general the House hired to defend the Defense of Marriage Act, argued that the federal government had good reasons for denying benefits to same-sex spouses, including maintaining a uniform federal policy regarding marriage across the country, endorsing the values of states that reject same-sex marriage, and, potentially, saving money by excluding married gay couples from tax and other benefits provided to heterosexual spouses.

Although Proposition 8 affected only California, the lawsuit challenging the voter initiative carried the potential of changing marriage laws across the country.

In May 2008, the California Supreme Court held that the state constitution's equal-protection provisions required recognition of same-sex marriages. By enacting Proposition 8 the following November, California voters eliminated that right by adding a sentence to the state constitution stating that "only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California."

In 2010, a federal district judge in San Francisco struck down Proposition 8 on broad grounds, concluding that such discrimination against gays and lesbians served no rational purpose.

The measure's proponents appealed to the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where last year a Pasadena, Calif.-based panel agreed that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, but for narrower reasons. Citing a 1996 Supreme Court opinion by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Ninth Circuit found it impermissible to withdraw rights from a minority group while leaving them intact for others.

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.



omg. it is GONE! bye bitch! Mods, this is a historic event in the lives of many gay ppl, if the TX abortion law post can be approved... this can be too.

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