The Supreme Court issued two landmark decisions in favor of gay marriage Wednesday. From the response outside the court to the rulings themselves, this is what you need to know.
First things first. What did the court decide? The Supreme Court struck down the federal law denying marriage benefits to gay couples in one case, and cleared the way for gay marriage in California in another.
In the court’s first decision, swing Justice Anthony Kennedy joined the court’s four liberal judges to overrule the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The justices struck down Section Three of DOMA as a violation of states’ rights and citizens’ protections under the Constitution. In his majority opinion, Justice Kennedy said DOMA “places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, and whose relationship the state has sought to dignify.” The justices said their ruling would not affect states which do not allow gay marriage.
In the second case, an unusual combination of justices decided the court could not rule on California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage. Conservative Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia teamed up with liberal Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan to rule the defendants of Prop 8 did not have legal “standing” in the case. This means Prop 8’s supporters had no specific damages the court could address, since Prop 8 was a state law. Because the court did not rule on the case, a district court’s decision to strike down Prop 8 will stand, making gay marriage legal in California.
If these cases were such a big deal, how did everyone respond? Supporters of gay rights exploded with happiness on news of the rulings. DOMA plaintiff Edie Windsor called her friend to say “please get married right away!” Two of the Prop 8 plaintiffs got engaged on the steps of the court, and Instagram told DOMA to eat it. PolicyMic’s Liz Plank rounds up the 10best reactions to SCOTUS’ rulings. You should also see what happens when you type “gay” into your Google search bar. However, not everyone was so happy about the news; opponents of gay marriage expressed their anger on Twitter. You can read 10of their reactions here.
Prominent politicians praised the Supreme Court’s decisions. Newark Mayor Cory Booker says striking down DOMA is a step in the right direction, but there is still a long way to go. Bill Clinton, who signed DOMA into law, said the rulings will help the U.S. “form a more perfect union.” President Obama tweeted his support for gay marriage.
That’s great, but how will the rulings affect gay couples? The fallout from the DOMA ruling will have financial repercussions across the country. While some gay Americans (like Edie Windsor) will pay lower estate taxes, a study conducted by the Congressional Budget Office in 2004 actually found federal recognition of gay marriage would increase tax revenue by 0.1%. This is because couples face a “marriage penalty” on their taxes. Talking Points Memo points out the ruling will benefit some gay couples more than others: Only those who live in states that allow gay marriage will receive federal benefits. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel said the spouses of gay service members will begin receiving full benefits immediately.
As for the Prop 8 ruling, California will allow gay marriage as soon as the Ninth Circuit Appeals Court lifts Prop 8. SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe says this will take a little less than a month.
Awesome! So, what do these cases mean for gay rights going forwards? Because the court didn’t rule on Prop 8, the DOMA decision will have a much greater impact on gay rights in the future. The New York Times’ Adam Liptak says the DOMA ruling gives gay rights advocates ammunition to challenge state bans on gay marriage. The court essentially ruled that distaste for gay people is not a legitimate ground for discrimination, a precedent that could have a far-reaching impact on the gay rights movement. “Everything that the Supreme Court said in the Defense of Marriage opinion… demonstrates that when [the court rules on state bans on gay marriage], marriage equality will be the law throughout this land,” said David Boies, the lawyer for the opponents of Prop 8. However, NPR’s Supreme Court legal correspondent Nina To10berg notes the court did not want its DOMA ruling to have an immediate effect on states that ban gay marriage. That fight will wait for another day.
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