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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Equality Wins!

Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, reverses Prop 8

On the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling that struck down sodomy laws in Lawrence v Texas, June 26, 2013 turned out to be another seminal landmark in the history of LGBT rights.  By a 5-4 decision the Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA—the Defense of Marriage Act—on the grounds that it violated the equal protection clause in the U.S. Constitution.  
In the case, Windsor v the United States, DOMA was viewed by the majority of the Court, whose opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, as unconstitutional “as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”  Justice Scalia was among three justices authoring dissents.

“By creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State, DOMA 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,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy. “By this dynamic DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage.”
The result is that same-sex couples who were married in states where such nuptials are legal, including Maryland, will be able to enjoy over a thousand Federal rights, benefits and entitlements that are accorded heterosexual couples. They include such Federal benefits as the right to file joint tax returns, federal pension survivors’, Social Security survivors’ benefits and many more.   Government agencies will be required to revamp their regulations to include legally married same-sex couples. 

With the Court’s decision to allow a lower court’s ruling to stand, which struck down Proposition 8 in California based on the equal protection clause, there are now 13 states plus D.C. where same-sex couples can marry. This represents jurisdictions covering over 93 million Americans.
DOMA was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton in which the Federal government was barred from recognizing same-sex marriages even if they were legal in certain states.  At the time, no such marriages were legal.

The second landmark decision that struck down Proposition 8 was based on standing that upheld the U.S. District Court of California’s ruling, authored by Vaughn Walker.  “We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to,” read the majority opinion in Hollingsworth v. Perry authored by Chief Justice John Roberts. “We decline to do so for the first time here.”
By taking this approach, the Supreme Court nullified Proposition 8 in California but provided no opinion on the rights of states to ban same-sex couples from being legally married.  Observers characterize the Court’s decision as “punting.”  During the oral arguments in March, Justice Kennedy cautioned that the Court was entering “unchartered waters,” which signaled a more likely narrow ruling as opposed to a sweeping broader one, unlike the DOMA ruling.

Hundreds of equality supporters as well as a lesser number of opponents gathered around the Supreme Court building in sweltering heat and humidity cheering the news amidst a sea of rainbow colored flags and signs.  People came from all over the U.S. with some spending the night before to witness history.

“Today the married lives of same-sex couples in Maryland were made whole,” Carrie Evans, executive director of Equality Maryland, told me.   “We can now access the more than 1,000 protections the federal government provides to married couples. And with the ruling in the Perry case, marriage equality returns to California bringing us to 13 states and the District of Columbia that have marriage equality. We will continue our quest in the remaining 37 states until all loving and committed couples in the U.S. have access to marriage equality.”
HRC president Chad Griffin issued a statement that said in part, “Today’s historic decisions put two giant cracks in the dark wall of discrimination that separates committed gay and lesbian couples from full equality.”

Governor Martin O’Malley, who pushed marriage equality in Maryland, weighed in calling the rulings “a powerful step forward for those who live in states like Maryland.”

The White House issued the following statement: “I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.  This was discrimination enshrined in law.  It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people.  The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it.  We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

“This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better.” 

“This is a historical day for all gay and lesbians couples,” said Annapolis resident Kim Hinken. “My wife, Adri and I are overjoyed at the repeal of DOMA. Finally, the country recognizes our vows to each other as they do any couple. The legal protections that this ruling allows us will assure that we are seen as a legally married couple in the U.S.”

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