SCOTUS Rules On Gay Marriage Cases (PHOTOS)

By Ariane Devogue
By Emma Koch
By Abby Phillip

Credit: Kara Fultz

SCOTUS Rules On Gay Marriage Cases (PHOTOS)

June 26, 2013 Updated Jan 8, 2014 at 1:12 PM EDT

UNITED STATES (www.incnow.tv) -- After months of waiting, the Supreme Court ruled on two cases concerning gay marriage.

Statement from President Obama:
I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. 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.

This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better.

So we welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.

On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.

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.

Statement from Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone of San Francisco, chair of the U.S. bishops' Subcommittee for the Promotion and Defense of Marriage:

Today is a tragic day for marriage and our nation. The Supreme Court has dealt a profound injustice to the American people by striking down in part the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Court got it wrong. The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so. The preservation of liberty and justice requires that all laws, federal and state, respect the truth, including the truth about marriage. It is also unfortunate that the Court did not take the opportunity to uphold California’s Proposition 8 but instead decided not to rule on the matter. The common good of all, especially our children, depends upon a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage. Now is the time to redouble our efforts in witness to this truth.

Statement from Indiana Senate Democratic Leader, Tim Lanane:
I believe these are a pair of landmark decisions for civil rights in our country where the Supreme Court has chosen to clear a path for same sex marriages to be recognized.

Moving forward, it is my hope that Indiana becomes a state that welcomes all, regardless of their sexual orientation, rather than taking unnecessary measures to make Indiana inhospitable.”

As we work to attract the best and brightest to our state, it is imperative that anyone looking to contribute to the Hoosier economy feels welcome.

Study after study shows growing support for marriage equality for all Hoosiers. We must ensure that our policies reflect this evolving sentiment.

It is my hope that lawmakers can put this divisive debate behind them, and focus on the priorities that matter to every Hoosier family- a strong economy, good schools, and thriving local communities.

Supreme Court Strikes Down Part of Defense of Marriage Act - ABC News

The Supreme Court today ruled that a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples, is unconstitutional.

Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion for the court striking down section 3 of DOMA in a landmark 5-4 decision that will have wide repercussions across America.

"DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government," Kennedy said. "Under DOMA same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways."

"By its great reach DOMA touches many aspects of married life from the mundane to the profound," he added.

The case involved a challenge to the 1996 law that passed with wide majorities and that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. It denies federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in their states.

The ruling prohibits the federal government from denying benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in the 11 states that recognize same-sex marriages.

"DOMA's avowed purpose and practical effect are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States," Kennedy wrote in an opinion that was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Crowds outside the Supreme Court could be heard erupting in applause as news of the court's ruling spread.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who dissented along with conservative Justices John Roberts, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito, read his dissent from the bench.

He said that he does not believe the court had the jurisdiction to hear the case at all.

"There are two parts to the majority's opinion, the first explaining why this Court has jurisdiction to decide the question, and the second deciding it," Scalia said. "Both of them are wrong, and the error in both springs from the same diseased root: an exalted notion of the role of this Court in American democratic society."

The Supreme Court will hand down rulings today in two highly-anticipated gay marriage cases, one that challenges Proposition 8, the California ballot initiative that defines marriage as between one man and one woman, and another that challenged a portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.

Here's pretty much everything you need to know about the two cases:

Prop 8:

Hollingsworth v. Perry

Two same-sex couples -- Kristin M. Perry and Sandra B. Stier, and Paul T. Katami and Jeffrey J. Zarrillo -- are challenging California's ballot initiative that defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Although the court could rule more narrowly, this case asks the question of whether there is a fundamental right to gay marriage.

Jurisdictional issues: (potential of the case being dismissed without reaching the merits)

The original sponsors of Prop 8 -- a group called Protectmarriage.com -- are defending the law because California public officials refused to do so. Before getting to the merits of the case, the Supreme Court will decide whether the proponents have the legal right to be in Court. If the Court finds there is no legal "standing," the case will be dismissed and the District Court ruling that struck down Prop 8 will most likely stand.

Charles J. Cooper, a lawyer representing ProtectMarriage.com, argues in court papers that the California Supreme Court gave the sponsors the state's authority to defend the law and the Supreme Court should respect that.

Opponents of Prop 8 say that "standing" requires an injury and proponents of Prop 8 cannot show they will be harmed if same-sex couples marry. (Walter Dellinger, Larry Tribe and conservative former conservative federal judge Michael McConnell all think the Court will dismiss on these grounds. )

The Merits:

The question before the court is whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment prohibits the State of California from defining marriage as the union of a man and a woman.

Prop 8 supporters' arguments: The central thrust of Cooper's arguments is that Californians who voted in favor of Prop 8 opted "in good faith" to preserve the traditional definition of marriage because they believe it continues to meaningfully serve important societal interests. Specifically, Cooper argues that marriage is "inextricably linked to the objective biological fact that opposite-sex couples and only such couples, are capable of creating new life together, and, therefore, are capable of furthering, or threatening, society's existential interests in responsible procreation and childbearing." He says that Prop 8 leaves undisturbed expansive domestic partnership laws that provide gays and lesbians with "some of the most comprehensive civil rights protections in the nation." He says the court should defer to the democratic process, and argues: "[T]he definition of marriage has always been understood to be the exclusive province of the States, which, subject only to clear constitutional constraints, have absolute right to prescribe the conditions upon which the marriage relation between their citizens shall be created."

Prop 8 opponents arguments: Theodore Olson and David Boies are asking the Court to find a fundamental right to gay marriage in the Constitution.

"The unmistakable purpose and effect of Proposition 8," they write, "is to stigmatize gay men and lesbians -- and them alone -- and enshrine in California's Constitution that they are unequal to everyone else, that their committed relationships are ineligible for the designation 'marriage' and that they are unworthy of that most important relation in life."
They dismiss the argument that Prop 8 serves the interest of promoting responsible procreation.

"There are many classes of heterosexual persons who cannot procreate unintentionally, including the old, the infertile and the incarcerated," they write.
They acknowledge that the federal system enables states to serve as "laboratories of democracy," but say "our Constitution does not permit States the power to experiment with the fundamental liberties of citizens."

The U.S. government supports the opponents of Prop 8, saying that laws that ban gay marriage should be subject to heightened scrutiny from the Courts. The government argues that Prop 8's denial of marriage to same-sex couples, particularly where California at the same time grants same-sex partners all the substantive rights of marriage, is a violation of equal protection. Six other states currently have similar laws.

In briefs, Verrilli writes that the ballot initiative "forbids committed same-sex couples from solemnizing their union in marriage, and instead relegates them to a legal status -- domestic partnership -- distinct from marriage but identical to it in terms of the substantive rights and obligations under state law."

Some Ways the Court Could Rule:

There are many ways the court could rule in this case. Among the possibilities:
At oral arguments, it didn't seem likely that the Court was ready for a broad ruling that would say that all bans on same-sex marriage violate the Constitution. The Court could strike down Prop 8 on narrower grounds and say, for example, that California could not give gay couples all the benefits of a robust domestic partnership law, but strip them of the word "marriage." Such a ruling could affect at least six other states with similar laws.
The Court could also issue an opinion specific to California's history with the gay marriage. The Court could say that California could not withdraw from gay and lesbian people the right to marry -- a right they once had -- without a rational basis for doing so. Such a ruling would apply only to California.

The Court could, of course, uphold Prop 8, which would allow states to continue to pass bans on gay marriage.

Keep in mind, there is a real chance in this case that the Court will not reach the merits. The Court might decide that the original proponents of Prop 8, who stepped in to defend the law when state officials refused to do so, did not have the legal right to be in Court. Such a ruling would mean the District Court ruling that struck down Prop 8 on broad grounds would most likely hold. Legal experts are divided on the implications of such a ruling, as there is some disagreement about whether the lower court's injunction applies statewide, or just to the couples who brought suit. Many believe that same-sex marriage will most likely resume under such a ruling, but the timing is unclear.

DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act)

United States v. Windsor

Edith Schlain Windsor is challenging a section of federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), that defines marriage as between a woman and a man. The law denies federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in their states. Unlike the Prop 8 case, the DOMA challenge does not address whether there is a fundamental right under the Constitution to same-sex marriage.

Windsor is an 83-year-old woman from New York who married Thea Clara Spyer in 2007 after some 40 years together as a couple. When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was denied -- under DOMA -- an exemption on federal estate taxes that she had paid on her spouse's estate.

In February 2011, the Obama administration announced that while it would continue to enforce DOMA, it would no longer defend the law. House Republicans stepped in to defend the law through the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG). Paul D. Clement, is the lead lawyer for BLAG.

Jurisdictional Issues:

Before the Justices can reach the merits of the case they will have to address two threshold issues. The first is whether the Court even has the jurisdiction to hear the case given that the U.S. government agrees with Windsor that DOMA is unconstitutional. The second question involves whether BLAG has the standing to defend the law. If the Court decides it does not have the power to decide the case, Windsor wins her refund, but at least for now, DOMA would remain on the books in other jurisdictions.

The Merits:

DOMA was passed in 1996 with wide majorities in both the House and the Senate. But since then, public opinion on gay marriage has changed radically. Today, the latest polls find that a majority of Americans support gay marriage.

Arguments in support of DOMA: Clement says that Congress was acting rationally when it passed DOMA and sought uniformity throughout the states. Similar to the arguments of supporters of Prop 8, Clement argues that in passing DOMA, Congress had a good reason to support traditional marriage. He targets the "tendency" of opposite-sex couples to produce "unintended and unplanned offspring."

"Government from time immemorial has had an interest in having such unintended and unplanned offspring raised in a stable structure that improves their chances of success in life and avoids having them become a burden on society," Clement says.

In his briefs, Clement points out that the federal government is not invalidating any state same-sex marriage laws, but instead is ensuring that federal benefits are distributed uniformly throughout the states.

He also urges the court to allow democracy to play out. The "correct answer," he tells the Court, is to leave an issue as "divisive and fast-moving" as same-sex marriage to the democratic process.

"In that process," Clement writes, "there is a premium on persuading opponents, rather than labeling them as bigots motivated by animus."

U.S. government's arguments against DOMA: The U.S. government argues that DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

"The law denies to tens of thousands of same-sex couples who are legally married under state law an array of important federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex couples," writes Solicitor General Donald B. Verrilli.

Verrilli argues that laws that discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny from the courts. He points out such scrutiny is necessary because gays and lesbians have faced a "significant history of discrimination in this country," and that they have suffered from limited political power as evidenced by the fact that states have passed initiatives banning same-sex marriage.

Lawyers for Windsor arguments against DOMA: Windsor rejects Clement's position that DOMA is necessary to promote responsible procreation, writing in court briefs: "It is irrational, fantastical thinking to believe that the federal government's decision to treat married gay couples as unmarried under federal law will encourage straight couples to marry before having children."

Some Possible outcomes:

At oral arguments, key swing vote Justice Anthony Kennedy seemed skeptical of the constitutionality of the law. But instead of pressing equal protection concerns, he focused on federalism and states' right issues.

If the court finds that the law is unconstitutional, then same-sex couples who are legally married in their state, would be able to get federal benefits currently available to opposite sex couples.

If the court upholds the law, then the current status quo remains.
If the court rules that it has no jurisdiction to hear the case, and thus is powerless to decide the issue, then Edith Windsor will get her tax refund of $363,000. But at least for now, DOMA will remain on the books in other jurisdictions.

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