Marriage Fairness: A Win and a Win (for California)!

In two historic rulings this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans to marry the person they love.

On DOMA, the Defense of Marriage Act: Unconstitutional

Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that the federal government cannot discriminate against married lesbian and gay couples in determining federal benefits and protections. It is a historic victor for all Americans, and a tremendous step forward for the cause of equality.

It is also a momentous day for Edie Windsor and for loving, married same-sex couples and their families.  With today’s ruling the Supreme Court strikes down the core of the Defense of Marriage Act, section 3, recognizing that it is discriminatory for our federal government to treat legally married gay couples any differently than it treats legally married heterosexual couples. 

The court’s ruling said: “The history of DOMA’s enactment and its own text demonstrate that interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages, a dignity conferred by the States in the exercise of their sovereign power, was more than an incidental effect of the federal statute. It was its essence.”

The justices ruled in favor of Edith “Edie” Windsor, who sued the federal government for failing to recognize her marriage to her partner of 44 years, Thea Spyer after Spyer’s death. Because DOMA prevented the federal government from recognizing the marriages of gay people, Windsor was forced to pay almost $400,000 in estate taxes that she would not have owed if she had been married to a man. We argued in court that DOMA denied her, and other gay and lesbian married couples, the equal protection of the law guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

This is a tremendous step forward.  There are more than 1100 places in federal laws and programs where being married makes a difference—from eligibility for family medical leave, to social security survivor’s benefits, to access to health care for a spouse.  Today’s decision will make a huge difference in the lives of thousands of legally married gay couples.  Married same-sex couples should now be eligible for these benefits and protections.

DOMA is the last federal law on the books that mandates discrimination against gay people by the federal government simply because they are gay, and today’s decision takes down its core.  It’s a great day for equality and the beginning of the end of official discrimination against lesbians and gay men. 

On Prop 8: California Same-Sex Marriages Once Again Legal 

In its second historic ruling today, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal by the proponents of Proposition 8, the 2008 initiative that declared marriage could only be between a man and a woman, for lack of standing. In doing so, the court effectively reinstated the trial court’s decision from 2010 that had struck down Prop 8 as violating the U.S. Constitution. This makes California the 13th state, along with the District of Columbia, to embrace marriage for everyone. With the addition of California today, fully 30% of the American public now lives in a freedom-to-marry state, up from just 11% last October.

A lot still remains to be done to bring the freedom to marry to everyone in America, but the momentum is clearly flowing to the banks of justice. In recent years, public support for the freedom to marry has been increasing at an unprecedented rate.  

The ACLU has been working for decades to secure the freedom to marry across the country.  Today, we renew our commitment to this effort and look forward to continuing our work so same-sex couples can legally marry across the country. As President Obama recently noted, the LGBT community is part of the American family.  It is time to treat loving and committed gay couples as we treat all families.