Advocates of marriage equality for same-sex couples came out on top in two U.S. Supreme Court decisions handed down Wednesday.
But the justices stopped short of declaring that members of the same gender have a constitutionally protected right to wed. As a result, the bans on gay marriage that exist in more than 30 states stay in place.
A slim 5 to 4 majority pushed through both decisions backing same-sex marriage rights, including one that will enhance the rights of homosexual and lesbian couples who, in New York, have had the legal right marry since 2011.
The majority concluded that sections of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) — signed into law in 1996 by then President Bill Clinton — violated the Constitution. The ruling clears the way for married same sex couples in New York and elsewhere across the country to obtain a host of federal benefits previously denied to them by DOMA, such as giving them the ability to file joint federal tax returns.
The DOMA decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, held that the statute was unconstitutional because it “singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.” His opinion was joined by the court’s four most liberal justices: Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor and Stephen Breyer.
The second ruling, more narrow in focus, overturned California’s Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriages in that state. In 2008, Califorinia voters had enacted the ballot measure known as Proposition 8, which limited marriages to those between one man and one woman. The Proposition 8 ruling did not have the often seen conservative/liberal divide. It was written by Chief Judge John G. Roberts Jr.
Once a federal appeals court lifts a stay on an order keeping Proposition 8 in place, California Gov. Jerry Brown said he wants all 58 county governments in the state to begin issuing marriage licenses to same sex couples.