Supreme Court’s Historic Ruling Expected to Lead to Same-Sex Marriage Again in California
Same-sex marriage was expected to resume in California, after the Supreme Court ruled that defenders of Proposition 8 lacked standing to challenge lower-court rulings that the state’s ban on same-sex marriage was unconstitutional.
In another ruling with even greater reach, the high court decided 5-4 that a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional on equal protection grounds, with Justice Anthony Kennedy and the court’s four liberal justices joining in the majority.
The ruling on Prop 8 came after a long effort by a group of Hollywood and political activists to challenge California’s initiative. A 5-4 majority of the high court found that defenders of Prop 8 lacked standing to pursue an appeal of a district court decision in 2010 that declared the initiative unconstitutional. California’s then governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and attorney general, Jerry Brown, refused to defend the initiative after that ruling, leaving the question of standing in doubt.
There is now expectation that same-sex marriages will resume in the state, although there may be further litigation that could delay the nuptials and raise questions on whether licenses can still be denied to same-sex couples in certain counties. After the ruling, Brown, the current governor, ordered counties to begin issuing licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the 9th circuit lifts a stay on district court decision, expected to be in about 25 days.
The DOMA decision carries far-reaching consequences, as the high court ruled that the 1996 law that prevents the federal government from extending benefits to same-sex couples violates the Constitution.
“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “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.” It means that same-sex married couples will be entitled to federal benefits like Social Security and tax privileges.
The court’s rulings fell short of declaring a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. “The Court does not question California’s sovereign right to maintain an initiative process, or the right of initiative proponents to defend their initiatives in California courts,” Chief Justice John Roberts wrote in the majority opinion. “But standing in federal court is a question of federal law, not state law.” Although the decision was on procedural grounds, supporters of same-sex marriage said it was significant because it meant that the defenders could not show that they suffered harm from gay nuptials.
“This is a wonderful day for everyone around this country and everyone in California who wants to marry the person they love,” David Boies, the attorney for two couples who challenged Prop 8, said on the steps of the Supreme Court on Wednesday, shortly after the rulings were issued.
The high court’s decision marks a coda to the four-year effort that was launched by a group of Hollywood and political activists to strike down Proposition 8 in the federal courts. In November, 2008, after the passage of the state’s ban on same-sex marriage, Rob Reiner and his wife Michele were having brunch at the Beverly Hills Hotel with with political consultants, Chad Griffin and Kristina Schake. They all had been involved in the fund-raising effort for the No on 8 campaign, but were reluctant to pursue another election where the question of same-sex nuptials was on the ballot. Instead, at the brunch, they ran into a friend of Michele Reiner’s who tipped them that Ted Olson, the conservative former solicitor general, was an ally on the issue.