The DOMA ruling is more sweeping than was expected, the Prop 8 ruling was expected
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that a key part of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and the federal government must recognize “gay marriages” accepted by individual states.
The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act – known as DOMA – “violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the majority.
In a June 26 ruling, the Court said that section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for federal purposes, violates the U.S. Constitution’s equal protection guarantees.
“The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States,” the court declared.
In a lengthy dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia rejected the majority’s assumption that the law had as its purpose to “disparage,” “injure,” “degrade,” “demean” and “humiliate” gay individuals.
Rather, he explained, DOMA “did no more than codify an aspect of marriage that had been unquestioned in our society for most of its existence – indeed, had been unquestioned in virtually all societies for virtually all of human history.”
“It is one thing for a society to elect change,” he said, “it is another for a court of law to impose change” by pronouncing those who oppose “enemies of the human race.”
Those who oppose “gay marriage” have voiced concern about their ability to abide by their beliefs if marriage is redefined.
Already in states that recognize “gay marriage,” Catholic adoption agencies have been forced to close for their insistence on placing children only with a married mother and father. Other non-profit agencies and private business owners have also faced pressure and mounting lawsuits to recognize same-sex unions as marriages against their religious convictions.
The majority opinion acknowledged that its ruling could have sweeping implications, as DOMA affects “over 1,000 federal statutes and the whole realm of federal regulations.”
On the same day, the nation’s high court also dismissed an appeal on California’s Proposition 8 on grounds of standing.
After a California court had ruled that “gay marriage” must be recognized in the state, marriage defenders launched a campaign to amend the state constitution to recognize marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
The amendment, Proposition 8, was approved by voters but quickly challenged in court. A lower court had ruled that the proposition was unconstitutional, and the case was appealed.
The Supreme Court’s dismissal on technical legal grounds rather than the merits of the case means that the lower court’s ruling stands, and “gay marriage” can be recognized in California.
Under the June 26 rulings, states may still choose to define marriage as they see fit. In states that choose to legalize “gay marriage,” the federal government must now recognize these unions. Currently, only 12 states and the District of Columbia recognize “gay marriage,” although marriage defenders have warned that political pressure is mounting in an attempt to force a redefinition of the institution.