DOMA is Dead, Prop 8 Backers Have No Standing

A packed city hall (photo: Supervisor Jane Kim)
A packed city hall (photo: Supervisor Jane Kim)

The U.S. Supreme Court issued long-awaited decisions on two same-sex marriage cases this morning, ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and anti-gay activists have no standing to challenge a lower court opinion on California's Proposition 8.

In time-honored fashion, San Franciscans are expected to gather en masse in the Castro at 6:30 pm this evening to celebrate the victory. Organizers have lined up numerous speakers and performers and streets closures will be in effect.

The Supremes ruled 5-4 - with swinging Justice Anthony Kennedy joining the liberal wing - that a key provision of DOMA prohibiting federal recognition of same-sex marriages violates the constitution's guarantee of equal protection. Today's decisions come 10 years to the date after the court ruled against sodomy laws in Lawrence v Texas.

Lieutenant Governor and former SF Mayor, Gavin Newsom (photo: ACLU of NorCal)
Lieutenant Governor and former SF Mayor, Gavin Newsom (photo: ACLU of NorCal)

Considered a win by most advocates, this means all marriages will be treated the same on the federal level. People in the dozen states that allow same-same marriage will now be married in the eyes of the feds as well, giving them equal rights and responsibilities in areas like taxes, inheritance (the issue at the heart of the U.S. v Windsor) and - presumably - immigration.

Turning to California, the Supremes took a narrow approach in Hollingsworth v Perry, opining that backers of Prop 8 - the constitutional amendment that passed in 2008 and has been held up in legal wrangling ever since - did not have standing to bring the case before the high court after state officials refused to do so.

Also a 5-4 ruling, the majority here ran the ideological gamut, with Chief Justice Roberts and right-winger Scalia joining liberals Breyer, Ginsburg, and Kagan.

The upshot is that Judge Vaughn Walker's 2010 decision striking down Prop 8 remains in effect. California couples can once again legally marry, and those who did so previously during a brief legal window remain hitched.

A broader ruling would have upheld the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeal's decision that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, making same-sex marriage legal in the nine western states under that court's jurisdiction. An even more sweeping ruling would have thrown out all state bans, making same-sex marriage legal across the land.

Surprising no one, the Supremes didn't go that far. The U.S. will remain a legal patchwork, and advocates in states that passed constitutional amendments barring same-sex marriage have their work cut out for them. But California same-sexers can now once again legally tie the knot, joining those in 11 other states that now enjoy full marriage equality at the federal level.