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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Supreme Court Overturns DOMA; Punts To States On Issue Of Gay Marriage Legality

By Susan Duclos

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages for purposes such as Social Security survivors' benefits, insurance benefits, immigration and tax filing.

 SCOTUSblog reports: "The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines “marriage,” for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples."

Many proponents of state sovereignty, whether they agree with gay-marriage or not, would applaud this decision on the grounds that if a state allows same-sex marriage, then the federal government has no right to deny same-sex partners equal federal benefits as a man and a woman who are married are entitled to.

NPR points out that in a separate ruling, the Supreme Court declined to take on the broader issue of gay marriage.

The court decided supporters of Prop 8, a 2008 ballot measure that outlawed same-sex marriage in the state, did not have standing to bring the case to the court.

NPR's Carrie Johnson explains: "By a holding of 5-4 with Chief Justice John Roberts in the majority, the Supreme Court rules the petitioners lack standing so the court avoids the underlying issues, remands and wipes away the decision by 9th Circuit Court of appeals, which means for now the lower court ruling invalidating California's Prop 8 stands."

That means gay marriages in California may resume but the ruling does not have a broader implication across the country.
Gay activists are celebrating the ruling against DOMA which provides equal federal benefits to same-sex couples who are married in states that allow same-sex marriage, while expressing disappointment that the Supreme Court did not rule on the legality of same-sex marriage as a whole, but left it to the states to decide.

The AP clarifies:

In a sign that neither victory was complete, the high court said nothing about the validity of gay marriage bans in California and roughly three dozen other states. And a separate provision of the federal marriage law that allows a state to not recognize a same-sex union from elsewhere remains in place.
The Supreme Court basically just removed the federal government from deciding who gets benefits and who doesn't and the battle over same-sex marriages will continue on, state by state.

According to Reuters, 12 of 50 states and DC,  have legalized same-sex marriage. Those states are MA, CT, IA, VT, NH, NY, RI, DE, MINN,  ME, MD and WA.

36 states have gay marriage bans through either laws or constitutional amendments or both.