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2 Victories for Marriage Equality at the Supreme Court

Supreme Court

SOURCE: Paul Morigi/AP Images for Human Rights Campaign

Jo Ann Whitehead, left, and Bette Jo Green joined the marriage-equality supporters at the Supreme Court as the justices heard the case Hollingsworth v. Perry, a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, Tuesday, March 26, 2013, in Washington.

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Today the Supreme Court delivered two historic rulings impacting the rights of marriage for same-sex couples.

In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court held that Dennis Hollingsworth, the head of ProtectMarriage.com, did not have the authority to appeal a district court decision striking down California’s Proposition 8. Proposition 8, passed in 2008, stripped thousands of same-sex couples of the right to marry the person they love. Though today’s decision poses a number of questions, it appears that the district court’s order prohibiting the state from enforcing Proposition 8 will stand. This means that marriage equality will once again return to California.

In United States v. Windsor, the Court struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, which for nearly two decades discriminated against legally married same-sex couples in more than 1,000 federal benefits and protections. Now that DOMA is no longer on the books, the Obama administration can begin to extend those benefits and protections to married same-sex couples, ensuring that all families are treated equally under federal law.

Today’s rulings affirm that all loving and committed couples who marry deserve equal respect and treatment under the law. They also affirm that fundamental freedoms such as the freedom to marry should never be stripped away by popular vote. In short, today represents an enormous win for same-sex couples and for equal justice under the law.

The Court ruled that the district court’s decision finding  Proposition 8 unconstitutional stands, returning marriage to California

In May 2008 tens of thousands of same-sex couples were granted the freedom to marry when the California Supreme Court ruled that denying those couples the recognition of marriage violated the equal protection clause of the California Constitution. Six months later, however, 52 percent of California voters overruled that decision when they enshrined discrimination into the state’s constitution by passing Proposition 8, which defines marriage as the union between one man and one woman. In doing so, voters effectively stripped gay and lesbian Californians of their ability to marry the person they love.

In today’s ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court held that the private parties supporting the law had no standing to appeal a federal district judge’s opinion holding that Proposition 8 violates the Constitution’s equal protection clause. Because this decision reflects principles of standing, rather than equal protection or substantive rights, the Court did not reach the merits of the case in its decision. This raises a number of questions regarding implementation and the future of laws similar to Proposition 8, but it also likely means that marriage equality will be restored in the Golden State. With the inclusion of California, there are now 13 states and the District of Columbia that recognize the freedom to marry.

Ninety-three million Americans—about one-third of the U.S. population—now live in a jurisdiction with the freedom to marry.

Things have changed in California since Proposition 8 was first passed. While 52 percent of California voters enacted Proposition 8 in 2008, support for marriage equality in the Golden State now outstrips opposition by a 2-to-1 margin; a recent poll found that 61 percent of Californians think gay and lesbian couples should be afforded marital rights, while only 32 percent are opposed. This means that in just five years, opposition to marriage equality in California has gone down 20 percent.

Nationwide, the movement for marriage equality is undeniable. The most recent ABC News/Washington Post poll found that among all adult Americans, 57 percent support extending the rights and responsibilities of marriage to same-sex couples. That majority will only grow, considering the fact that 81 percent of Americans ages 18 to 34 support the freedom to marry.

For this reason, we will likely see a significant push for marriage equality in Illinois, Oregon, Nevada, Hawaii, New Jersey, and perhaps other states in 2014.

The Court ruled that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, ending discrimination against legally married same-sex couples

Today the Supreme Court also held that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, as a deprivation of equal protection under the law. The majority of justices recognized that DOMA’s sole purpose and effect are to impose a separate and disadvantaged status on couples entering into same-sex marriages, and that the resulting injury and indignity is impermissible under the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

Section 3 of DOMA has discriminated against legally married same-sex couples by denying them the more than 1,000 federal benefits and protections afforded to married opposite-sex couples. Among these critical benefits and protections are:

  • Exemption from taxes on employer-provided health insurance
  • Family and medical leave when a spouse becomes sick
  • Family-based immigration sponsorship
  • Federal-employee spousal retirement and health benefits
  • Health insurance coverage and survivor benefits for spouses of service members and veterans

When Congress first passed DOMA in 1996, no state recognized the freedom to marry. Prior to today’s ruling, 12 states and the District of Columbia recognized marriage between same-sex couples. But even though same-sex couples could marry in those jurisdictions, they were denied many federal benefits and protections critical to supporting families as a result of DOMA.

DOMA’s two-tiered system of federal marriage recognition was a radical departure from the way in which our country has always treated marriages. It forced the government to pick and choose among marriages and discriminate against families headed by same-sex couples. With Section 3 of DOMA no longer the law of the land, that discrimination will end, and legally married same-sex couples and their families will have more equal access to the federal benefits and protections of marriage. Those benefits and protections will also mean enhanced economic security for these families, which is especially important since families headed by same-sex couples are twice as likely to be living in poverty compared to families headed by opposite-sex couples.

The Obama administration—a longtime opponent of DOMA—can and should take the appropriate administrative action to ensure those benefits and protections are extended as swiftly and as broadly as possible. Congress must also pass and the president must sign the Respect for Marriage Act, which would fully repeal DOMA, including the other harmful provisions that remain law to the detriment of families headed by same-sex couples.

Conclusion

The momentum for equality is unstoppable. As we’ve seen in the states with marriage equality laws on the books, allowing loving and committed same-sex couples to enjoy the benefits and obligations of marriage does not hurt families. To the contrary, it makes our families stronger, which makes our communities, our states, and our nation stronger. Today’s rulings are a step toward a stronger and more just society.

Andrew Cray is a Policy Analyst for LGBT Progress at the Center for American Progress. Crosby Burns was formerly a Policy Analyst at the Center.

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