The DOMA decision, a 5 to 4 split, was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy and joined by the four liberal justices of the court. It strikes the key provision of DOMA as unconstitutional because it violates the guarantees of equal protection and due process. The eloquent, sweeping nature of Kennedy’s language will embolden same-sex marriage supporters to challenge marriage bans in conservative states.
“DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others,” Kennedy wrote for the majority. “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.”
The DOMA dissent, based largely on matters of standing rather than constitutionality, was led by Chief Justice John Roberts and joined by the court’s three other conservatives.
The Proposition 8 opinion, a 5 to 4 vote led by the Chief Justice, vacates a Ninth Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruling. It says Yes on 8 defenders of the law lacked standing, under federal rules of law, to make the appeal. The decision appears to leave intact the district court decision, a much broader ruling in favor of marriage equality and equal protection under the California constitution.
The dissent was a surprise: Justice Kennedy led two conservative justices plus liberal Justice Sonia Sotomayor. They said the court should accept the California Supreme Court’s determination that Yes on 8 had standing.
Reaction was understandably euphoric from LGBT legal activists and the thousands of supporters of same-sex marriage gathered outside the Supreme Court building and town hall in San Francisco.
“It’s nearly perfect. I’m thrilled,” said Mary Bonauto, civil rights project director for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, the group which launched the first successful lawsuit challenging DOMA and secured the first right to marry from a state supreme court.
The DOMA decision, Bonauto told Queerty, “not only strikes DOMA but makes clear what we’ve been saying all along–that DOMA is discriminatory and that it is an effort by the federal government to deprive same-sex couples of their rights and to demean them.”
“We have won the freedom to marry in California,” said Evan Wolfson, head of the national Freedom to Marriage group, on MSNBC right after the decision was released in the Proposition 8 case. Wolfson noted that, with the addition of California, at least a third of the nation’s population now lives in a state with marriage equality. Prior to today, it was at about 18 percent.
Jon Davidson, legal director for Lambda Legal, called both decisions a “huge victory for married same-sex couples and their families because it will affect almost every facet of life from health care to retirement to taxes.”
The two plaintiff couples emerged from the Supreme Court building on the front steps at 10:45 a.m., alongsideChad Griffin, who organized the Proposition 8 lawsuit, and David Boies, one of the two lead attorneys who pressed the challenge. As they did, a chorus sang the national anthem.
Boies spoke about both decisions and noted that June 26 is the tenth anniversary of the Lawrence v. Texas decision, striking down sodomy laws.
In striking DOMA, said Boies, the court ruled “there was no purpose” in denying same-sex couples the right to marry.
In the Proposition 8 case, said Boies, the court ruled that the Yes on 8 defenders of the law did not have standing to press the appeal. But he said the court’s opinion makes clear that “when” a case involving a similar ban comes before the court on merits, it is clear the majority will find it unconstitutional.
Plaintiff Kristin Perry emphasized the importance of the Prop 8 decision to the children of same-sex parents, children who can now know that their parents are equal to other parents. Her spouse-to-be, Sandra Stier, said the struggle must now continue to secure the right to marry for same-sex couples in states that deny them marriage licenses.
President Obama, aboard Air Force One on his way to Africa, called the plaintiffs while they were at the impromptu press conference in front of the Supreme Court building. He said he was “proud” and “so glad for California” and thanked them for their leadership.
The White House also posted a Twitter message quoting the president as calling the DOMA ruling an “historic step forward for marriage equality.”
The court issued its decision in the two high-profile marriage cases at 10 a.m. EDT on June 26, the last day of its 2012-13 session.
The opinions in Hollingsworth v. Perry (concerning Proposition 8) and U.S. v. Windsor (concerning DOMA) can be read in their entirety at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/slipopinions.aspx.