DOMA and Proposition 8 Rulings Give Support to Same-Sex Marriage

The gay rights movement saw a significant victory at the Supreme Court Wednesday, when the Court struck down Proposition 8 in Hollingsworth v. Perry and the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) in United States v. Windsor.

California enacted Proposition 8, which would have incorporated Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights into the California Constitution, providing that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Ninth Circuit invalidated the amendment based on the Due Process and Equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment holding that the legislation was not rationally related to any legitimate interest of California. The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the defendants have no standing after the governor and attorney general declined to defend it. The Court stated:

“We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here.”

The Court vacated the judgment of the Ninth Circuit remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

Congress enacted DOMA in 1996 and it excluded same-sex married couples from receiving federal recognition and benefits such as Social Security and the filing of joint tax returns. Section 2 of DOMA states that no state or US entity must recognize any record or proceeding with respect to relations between people of the same sex as marriage, and Section 3 defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman and that spouse only refers to people of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife. In the United States v. Windsor the Second Circuit held that Section 3 of DOMA is subject to intermediate scrutiny under the standards of the Supreme Court. The Second Circuit found that homosexuals compose a quasi-suspect class that is therefore subject to heightened scrutiny and that Section 3 of DOMA does not survive intermediate scrutiny review. In a 5-4 ruling the Supreme Court struck down DOMA that denies federal benefits — like Social Security benefits or the ability to file joint tax returns — to same-sex couples legally married. The Court stated:

“DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment. 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 Court affirmed the judgment of the Second Circuit.

Later that Wednesday, President Barack Obama released a statement approving the decisions, stating, “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.”