Supreme Court same-sex marriage decisions

The U.S. Supreme Court ended its term for 2012-2013 with a pair of important rulings on same-sex marriage, as the Justices struck down a provision in a federal law that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman and refused to rule on a voter approved ban on gay marriage from California.

The rulings were not as sweeping as backers of same-sex marriage had hoped, but they do foreshadow further fights both in the courts, and in various state legislatures, where same-sex marriage is not allowed.

The ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act can be found at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-307_g2bh.pdf

The decision on Proposition 8 from California is at http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/12pdf/12-144_8ok0.pdf

Reaction flowed in immediately from lawmakers in the Congress and the White House; Speaker John Boehner issued this statement:

“Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act on an overwhelmingly bipartisan basis and President Clinton signed it into law.  The House intervened in this case because the constitutionality of a law should be judged by the Court, not by the president unilaterally.  While I am obviously disappointed in the ruling, it is always critical that we protect our system of checks and balances.  A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.”

From Air Force One, which is taking President Obama to Africa, the White House issued this 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. 

So we welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.

On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital.  How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions.  Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.  

The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts:  when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.  

At the state level, today’s rulings were also being digested by both parties.  This statement was issued by the Attorney General of Georgia, Sam Olens:

“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States held 5-4 that Congress violated equal protection when it defined marriage for federal purposes differently from the way the State of New York defined it. I disagree with the Court’s decision. But it is important to understand what the decision does and does not mean.

Today’s decision rests on the basic assumption – with which I strongly agree – that the power to define marriage is a power traditionally reserved to the States. The decision does not affect existing state definitions of marriage; in fact, it explicitly says that it is limited to marriages recognized by states as lawful. I agree with the Chief Justice that this limitation means what it says. The definition of marriage adopted by Georgia’s voters is unaffected by today’s decision.”

That statement is a reminder that while a lot of court cases will certainly follow today’s rulings, there will be a lot of political battles in state legislatures as well.