Landmark court victories for gay Americans

Supreme court orders federal government to recognise legally married gay couples

Jordan Lorence, a DC-based attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, reads the court’s opinion on United States vs Windsor, which struck down as unconstitutional the federal Defence of Marriage Act at the US Supreme Court in Washington. Photograph: James Lawler Duggan/Reuters

Jordan Lorence, a DC-based attorney for the Alliance Defending Freedom, reads the court’s opinion on United States vs Windsor, which struck down as unconstitutional the federal Defence of Marriage Act at the US Supreme Court in Washington. Photograph: James Lawler Duggan/Reuters

 


The US supreme court has handed two landmark victories to gay Americans and advocates of same-sex marriage, ordering the federal government to recognise legally married gay couples and paving the way for the resumption of same-sex weddings in California.

The rulings, both with 5-4 majorities, come amid a seismic shift in the US in public attitudes in favour of same-sex marriage. Crowds of people waved rainbow flags outside the court in celebration yesterday, while social conservatives condemned the decision as an affront to natural order.

President Barack Obama applauded the decisions. “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.”


Same rights
The supreme court did not answer the fundamental question about whether gay and lesbian people have a right to get married. Instead, with its decision to overturn a central plank of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (Doma), which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, the majority of the justices declared that the federal government must grant the same rights to all legally married couples.

Under Doma, same-sex marriages were not eligible for the 1,110 federal benefits – from the ability to file taxes jointly to pension inheritance – that straight couples enjoyed.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia now allow same-sex weddings.

“This [Doma] places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier -marriage,” Justice Anthony Kennedy, the swing vote on the court, wrote in the opinion for the majority. He sided with the four liberal justices on the court in finding Doma unconstitutional.

In the second decision, one that was not split along ideological lines, the supreme court gave the green light to California to allow same-sex marriages. The justices said the proponents of California’s ban on same-sex marriage had no right to defend it against a lower court’s ruling that same-sex couples who wanted to marry in California should be able to do so. The state of California declined to defend the ban, which was passed by voters in 2008.

The justices sent the case back to a lower court with instructions for it to dismiss the case.

Together, the rulings amount to a double boost for advocates of same-sex marriage.

– (Copyright The Financial Times Limited 2013)