Wednesday handed down two decisions dealing with gay rights on Wednesday, offering same-sex marriage advocates a clear victory on one and technical victory on the second.
In a 5-4 majority of opinion the Court ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The law, which prevents the federal government from recognizing gay marriages in states where the practice is legal, was passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages. It contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not others, of both rights and responsibilities, creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State,” the Court ruled in its majority opinion.
“It also forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and protect.”
The law had prevented same-sex couples from receiving the same tax, health, and pension benefits traditional married couples receive.
Justice Anthony Kennedy delivered the majority opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsberg,, Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor.
The second same-sex marriage opinion the Court handed down Wednesday dealt with California’s Proposition 8 was a procedural ruling, which some believe could clear the way for gay marriage in California.
In the 5-4 ruling, the Court held that the private parties appealing a federal judge’s decision to strike down Prop 8. did not have standing and left the judge’s initial ruling in place.
“The parties do not contest that respondents had standing to initiate this case against the California officials responsible for enforcing Proposition 8,” the Court held. “But once the District Court issued its order, respondents no longer had any injury to redress, and the state officials chose not to appeal.”
Chief Justice John Roberts spoke for the majority, joined by Justices Scalia, Ginsberg, Breyer and Kagan.
The Associated Press speculates that the Court’s decision to punt on Prop 8 could allow state officials to resume same-sex weddings in about a month.