Wake up and smell the equality, folks. LGBT men and women and their friends and family across America have plenty of reasons to celebrate after the Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional and invalid.
On Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (often called DOMA). The 1996 law restricted the federal concept of “marriage” to a union between one man and one woman and refused to acknowledge same-sex marriage from other states. In a close 5-4 ruling, the court decided the law was unconstitutional because it violates the “equal liberty” part of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution. The ruling declared:
“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages. It contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not others, of both rights and responsibilities, creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State. It also forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and protect.”
Later on Wednesday, the Court also ruled against California’s Proposition 8, a 2008 amendment to the California Constitution that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. Under Prop 8, previously legal same-sex marriages were no longer recognized as valid.
The demise of DOMA and Prop 8 are huge steps for same-sex marriage. For the first time, non-heterosexual couples have the same federal benefits, programs, and rights as men and women in heterosexual marriages (notably the ability to file taxes jointly and receive spousal health benefits).
At the same time, the Supreme Court rulings don’t mean the fight for same-sex rights is over. Anti-gay marriage groups (who spent considerable time and money trying to bolster DOMA) are predictably unhappy with the Court’s decisions and will likely keep pushing for legislation that prevents same-sex marriage.
The DOMA decision raises many questions: What will happen to non-heterosexual couples living in states where marriage is illegal? How will these changes affect federal agencies? Will this decision lead to a national constitutional amendment supporting same-sex marriage? While today was a big, exciting day for the LGBT community, it’s important to recognize that the Supreme Court rulings do not necessarily pave the way for non-heterosexual marriage across all of America.
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