Two victories for marriage equality in Supreme Court decisions

From Liberation:


June 26, 2013


The author is an attorney, author, and professor at the George Washington University. He is author of the legal treatise Hate Crimes Law (Westlaw), periodically revises the First Amendment chapter in Sexual Orientation and the Law (Westlaw), and authors briefs to the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of various human and civil rights organizations.


The movement for equality scored two major victories on June 26, as different 5-4 majorities in the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional and let stand the original Federal District Court decision that struck down California’s Proposition 8.


Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the DOMA case, U.S. v. Windsor, and announced his decision from the bench. He spoke eloquently about the nature of DOMA in attempting to undermine the dignity of same-sex couples, concluding that this was an unconstitutional law that served no legitimate purpose. His description of the discriminatory effect of the law was so moving that many courtroom viewers sniffled and choked back tears, including even a sizable portion of people sitting in the section of the room reserved for members of the Supreme Court bar, who are normally very careful about decorum.


This ruling reflects a judicial variation on the change in attitudes and understanding that the political struggle, inside and outside courtrooms around the country, has won very recently. Anti-equality forces had success in early stages by asking for a simple show of hands on “who wants gay marriage?” as evident in the early “Let the People Vote Coalition,” funded by the National Organization for Marriage.


Issue of equality


But as the debate moved beyond the initial, knee-jerk response to the idea of same-sex marriage, people began to see this as an issue of equality and denial of the rights and dignity of others. The last election cycle showed that people in many states (including ones that formerly voted against marriage equality) realized that there was no reason, other than bare bigotry, to deny marriage rights. Today, the majority of the Supreme Court recognized this truth, and affirmed that our Constitutional principles of due process and equal protection of the laws prohibit such baseless discrimination.

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