US Supreme Court ruling is a victory of gay rights in America
The US Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday that the federal government must recognise same-sex marriages in states where it is legal. Wednesday’s double ruling also paved the way for same-sex marriages in California.
The two separate cases concerned the constitutionality of the 1996 Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denied many benefits to married same-sex couples, and Proposition 8, a California state law banning gay marriage.
The decisions fall short of offering a fundamental right to same-sex marriage, and only apply to the twelve states, not including California, that have legalised gay marriage.
Edith Windsor brought the challenge to DOMA. The 83-year-old faced a tax bill of $363,000 when her female partner of 44 years died because the federal estate tax deduction was only available to heterosexual couples under DOMA.
The court ruled, 5-4, that this violated the US Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law, and struck down section 3 of DOMA which limited the definition of marriage to between a man and a woman for the purposes of federal benefits.
Taking the lead judgement, Justice Kennedy stated that DOMA treated same-sex unions as “second-class marriages” and imposed “a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by unquestioned authority of the states”.
The ruling was met with jubilation from gay marriage advocates, who celebrated outside the Supreme Court, chanting: “DOMA is dead”.
The ruling also represents a victory for president Obama’s administration, which decided it would no longer defend DOMA.
Obama, the first sitting president to endorse gay marriage, has written: “We are a people who declared that we are all created equal, and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.”
The ruling on Proposition 8, however, was less clear.
Proposition 8, which overturned a decision to recognise same-sex marriage, had been struck down by the federal district court in San Francisco who ruled it was unconstitutional. The Supreme Court’s decision that supporters of the Californian law do not have standing to appeal such a ruling means the law remains struck down, effectively reinstating same-sex marriage in California.
Opposition to gay marriage remains fierce in America, especially among Republicans, and supporters of Proposition 8 have vowed to continue the fight for its enforcement.
Support for gay marriage has, however, risen significantly since Obama became president. In November 2004, just after George W. Bush took office, 21% of Americans supported gay marriage. This month, support stood at 51%.