In a landmark ruling, the US Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional, restoring equal federal rights to all married same-sex couples in the country. The court also declined to rule on Proposition 8, effectively allowing same-sex marriage in California.
The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed in 1996 by the US Congress. Section 3 of DOMA limited the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman for the purposes of federal benefits, thus denying same-sex couples over 1100 federal benefits and rights. On the other hand, Proposition 8 (or Prop 8) was a ballot proposition passed by voters in California with a thin majority of 52% to 48% that restricted marriage to be between a man and woman in the state, thus effectively denying same-sex couples the right to marry in California.
Overturning DOMA with a 5-4 ruling and terming it unconstitutional, Justice Kennedy wrote: “The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
However, on Prop 8, the court took a more technical view and refrained from taking any decision as it had not been put up before the court properly and said that supporters of the measure did not have the legal standing to appeal the lower court’s ruling, thus clearing the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California too.
The news of the judgemnet was greeted with cheers and celebrations across USA by gay marriage supporters. In a press statement, US President Barrack Obama applauded Supreme Court’s decision to strike down DOMA, “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.”
Opponents of gay marriage have however vowed to take the fight further and push for a federal constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.