Today, just two days shy of the 44th anniversary of the start of the Stonewall Riots in New York City which ushered in the gay civil rights movement, should be known henceforth as LGBT Liberation Day. For today the Supreme Court of the United States affirmed that the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law applies to same-sex couples and their families.
By 5 to 4 decision the high court struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional “as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority.
DOMA’s unusual deviation from the usual tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage here operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with the federal recognition of their marriages. This is strong evidence of a law having the purpose and effect of disapproval of that class. The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.
As for the Prop 8 case, the Court ruled that the proponents of California’s Proposition 8 did not have standing to seek to overturn a lower court ruling that the state constitutional ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional. And while this is a punt on the question of a constitutional right to marry, the court’s decision made marriage equality the law of the land in the Golden State once again. With one decision, 30 percent of the population now lives in a state with marriage equality.
Same-sex couples now have the right to marry in 13 states and District of Columbia. The federal government will now recognize those marriages and they will have all the rights and responsibilities under federal law that accrue to their unions. But there is more work to be done to ensure that married same-sex couples — and those who want to get married — are treated equally under the law throughout the United States. Today’s historic rulings make that work infinitely easier.
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