BREAKING: Supreme Court Declares DOMA Unconstitutional, Rules “No Standing” on Prop 8

Today, the Supreme Court ruled to strike down DOMA and declared it unconstitutional as per the Fifth Amendment. It has been ruled that the petitioners in Prop 8 did not have standing, and so the appeal is dismissed. From the decision on DOMA:

 The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others.

It’s the culmination of months of waiting, and before that, years of struggle and activism. The Supreme Court heard arguments on two different issues: the Defense of Marriage amendment that defined marriage as being between one man and one woman on the federal level, and California’s Proposition 8, which sought to specifically outlaw same-sex marriage.

Given that there were two pieces of legislation under consideration, with differing purviews (a ruling on Prop 8 could be confined to California; DOMA is an amendment with national implications), there were complicated combinations of possible rulings and possible outcomes. The New York Times has a helpful flowchart which explains them, or you could look at these infographics from GLAAD.

infographic-prop8-doma-small

The ruling on DOMA does not legislate same-sex marriage, but it does mean that in states where same-sex marriage is already legal, the federal government will recognize those marriages in the same way that they recognize different-sex marriages. This decision has no bearing on whether same-sex marriage will be legal in individual states. The opinion was written by Justice Kennedy, with the supporting four votes coming from Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan. Justice Scalia has dissented, along with justices Alito, Roberts and Thomas.

The no standing ruling in Prop 8 means that there will be no national impact on same-sex marriage rights because of this case, but that same-sex marriage should become legal in California. Essentially, the Supreme Court is saying that the people who appealed the striking down of Prop 8 don’t have legal legitimacy to make an appeal, and so the court isn’t really considering the case. Over at SCOTUSblog, there’s a discussion of what the next step for Prop 8 might be. Here’s the SCOTUS liveblog’s take on what just happened with Prop 8, according to Amy Howe:

After the two same-sex couples filed their challenge to Proposition 8 in federal court in California, the California government officials who would normally have defended the law in court, declined to do so. So the proponents of Proposition 8 stepped in to defend the law, and the California Supreme Court (in response to a request by the lower court) ruled that they could do so under state law. But today the Supreme Court held that the proponents do not have the legal right to defend the law in court. As a result, it held, the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the intermediate appellate court, has no legal force, and it sent the case back to that court with instructions for it to dismiss the case.

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Rachel is Autostraddle's Senior Editor and the editor who presides over books and news & politics coverage. Originally from Boston, MA, Rachel now lives in the Midwest. Topics dear to her heart include bisexuality, The X-Files and tacos. Her favorite Ciara video is probably "Ride," but if you're only going to watch one, she recommends "Like A Boy."

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126 Comments

  1. Thumb up 9

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    as soon as I saw this headline on twitter, I kind of just stared and went “We won a thing.” And then reading to the end of this article, and seeing this same phrase as one of the tags has resulted in a shit-eating grin on my face? Idk, I don’t live anywhere near the US but I have a lot of feelings about this. Very very happy feelings.

  2. Thumb up 3

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    From the liveblog. Amazing.

    Amy Howe: Justice Scalia is reading from his dissent right now. The Court’s opinion both in explaining its jurisdiction and its decision “both spring from the same diseased root: an exalted notion of the role of this court in American democratic society.”

  3. Thumb up 16

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    GUYS I AM SO FUCKING HAPPY. The world is an amazing place and I want to hug everyone and everything in it. I WILL EVEN HUG YOU SCALIA, YOU TERRIBLE BASTARD BECAUSE NOTHING CAN BRING ME DOWN

    *champagne for everyone*

  4. Thumb up 10

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    I have the distinct feeling I will be getting NO work done today. :)
    Also I am getting flowers at work and tomorrow is my birthday, not that is anywhere near as exciting as this news, but happy birthday to me!
    The world is filled with ponies and flowers and rainbows!!!!

  5. Thumb up 4

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    THEY DIDN’T FUCK IT UP!

    I was pretty sure this would be the outcome, but I’ve always known that if anyone can fuck shit up it’s SCOTUS. And then after the shit show with the Affirmative Action ruling I was really nervous.

    But, YAY! I’m so happy!

    Thank you SCOTUS for not fucking this up.

  6. Thumb up 5

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    I’m glad all of you are here celebrating. This feels like such a big deal! I really wish I could be openly excited about this, so if you are someplace where that is possible squeal in excitement on my behalf!!! It will be 5 pm EST before I know it and then I can be as proud and loud as possible!!!

  7. Thumb up 10

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    I’m reading this in a public library in small town Spain and grinning from ear to ear. The other people in the room probably think I am a little bit strange but I don’t care. This is wonderful news!

    And now I am REALLY excited about a) going to New York and b) seeing my American girlfriend next week, as if I wasn’t excited enough already. *tries to magic self across the pond*

  8. Thumb up 3

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    Yay! I’m not American (and I don’t live there) but I’m really happy with this result.

    I’m not totally au fait with US law (the whole federal vs state law thing is bizarre to me), but by declaring a ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional, will that in any way pressurise or encourage states that do not have marriage equality to hop on the band wagon?

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      I don’t think so unfortunately. As I understand it, banning same-sex marriage wasn’t deemed unconstitutional; rather, banning legally married same-sex couples from getting the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples was deemed unconstitutional. So, it’s still ok to keep people from getting married. BUT in states where gay marriage is legal, the federal government has to give them the same benefits as other married couples – like tax breaks, for example.

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      There’s a couple of steps before we undo all the state constitution bans unfortunately: First, we got to determine what exactly goes on in states where gay marriage is illegal – are these married people federally recognized in what ways and which ways?

      Then we have to figure out how the Full Faith and Credit Clause in the constitution works in regards to people who get gay married in states where it’s legal and move to states where it is illegal – up to now, DOMA was blocking that conversation.

      The Full Faith and Credit Clause is, for example, what allows state driver licenses (I.e. Florida, Georgia, Hawaii) to be valid in a different state that didn’t issue the license. One of the perks straight couples get under the Full Faith and Credit Clause is that their marriages are automatically recognized in all the states automatically. As it stands right now, Gay married couples are not afforded that. There is, however, legal precedent for forcing states to recognize marriages that they do not want to recognize – Loving v. Virginia, AKA That Court Case That Made Interracial Marriage Legal.

      So, it’s still early days, but very significant early days.

  9. Thumb up 3

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    Such great news! Finally something to smile about in America. I can’t wait till the day when I tell my kids and grandkids “Yeah there was a time when we weren’t allowed to be married, that’s history.” Thank you everyone!

  10. Thumb up 2

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    “Acceptance of the argument would cast all those who cling to traditional beliefs about the nature of mar­riage in the role of bigots or superstitious fools.” United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. __, __ (2013) (Alito, J. dissenting) (slip op. p. 13).

    #cognitivedissonance

  11. Thumb up 2

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    It’s fantastic, but I must be in a mood, because I’m not all that excited.

    I live in Idaho, you guys. Same-sex marriage is very, VERY banned. I think I was hoping for a miracle — that the Supreme Court would declare ALL gay marriage bans unconstitutional.

    I mean, I don’t have anyone to even THINK about marrying, and I wanted to move to Washington anyway. But…

    • Thumb up 4

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      Yep, there’s still a long way to go. I heard someone with HRC or Freedom to Marry (sorry, I forgot which) said their goal is to bring marriage equality nationwide within 5 years. I can’t decide if that’s really fast or way too slow… I guess both, depending on how you look at it!

      “I mean, I don’t have anyone to even THINK about marrying, and I wanted to move to Washington anyway. But…”
      This hit me right in the feels, I’ve said things like this to myself so many times and now I really want to hug you, if you’re cool with that.

  12. Thumb up 6

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    *Waking up to this news is like waking up to a snow day.

    *Who’s going to have the unfortunate job of telling straight married couples that their marriages aren’t valid anymore since DOMA was struck down and will no longer be defending their marriages?

    I call dibs.

    *Someone invite me to a gay wedding, ASAP.

  13. Thumb up 1

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    I have a question about DOMA: does this mean that couples can marry in states that have legal same-sex marriages, but live in states that don’t recognize them, will be able to have their marriages recognized federally but not state-wide?

    Like. If an Alaskan couple marries in Washington, do they still have their marriage federally recognized while living in Alaska even though the state doesn’t? And does this also apply to couples who marry internationally? (Same Alaskan couple marries in Canada, lives in Alaska.)?

    • Thumb up 0

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      As far as I understand (and often I understand wrong…) The federal gov’t now needs to decide how to proceed with dealing with marriages between states…like if the federal rights will be recognized in a state that doesn’t have same sex marriage…

    • Thumb up 2

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      The federal marriage benefits that DOMA previously denied is the issue.

      It’s going to be a really complicated mess, because there are different regulations and statutes per state, so there will be lots of different factors. Some benefits are doled out based on the state you got married (military veterans’ spousal benefits) and some based on the current state you reside, so it’ll be different depending on where you live and where you got married.

      As it currently stands, If you live in a state where gay marriage is legal, then you receive all the benefits that DOMA previously denied. If you got married in a state where gay marriage is legal then moved somewhere it’s illegal, you’re only going to receive a fraction of the benefits.

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        @___@ I don’t think I’ll ever understand the complexity that is the States-based rights vs. federal ones. But thank you, that cleared up my overall questions. I was curious about there being a loophole for prospective same-sex spouses getting married somewhere legal, and then getting at least the federal benefits in a non-legal state.

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          Yeah, our system is a clusterfuck based on checks and balances that just result in a lot of stalemates and slow progress.

          One example of state government vs federal government: Medical marijuana is legal in the state of California but isn’t federally recognized, so the FBI has been regularly raiding collectives, even though it’s perfectly legal in the state.

          The founding fathers didn’t want to give the state or central government too much power over each other, so the result is the aforementioned clusterfuck.

  14. Thumb up 5

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    DING DONG DOMA IS DEAD!

    Will someone be covering what’s going on down here in the Texas legislature? Please? Pretty please with unicorns wearing bow ties on top? Perry has called another “special session” starting July 1st and all senate bills start over. Here in Dallas there are serious talks of mobilizing and getting to Austin to protest. Also, Wendy Davis is my new hero…. #pleaseibegyou

  15. Thumb up 2

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    I totally teared up when I saw the news, which surprised me a little because the results were pretty much what I expected. But I was worried that they might kill DOMA based on states’ rights to define marriage, which seems like it would work against us. But they didn’t do that! They used the Equal Protection Clause! So yay, helpful legal precedent!

    Also I’ve played in string quartets for so many weddings, maybe now I can finally play for a gay wedding! I’m so excited!!! I can’t wait :)

  16. Thumb up 1

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    Guess I’m gonna be the debbie downer 1st world brat of the bunch but I gotta say, I don’t live in a state where gay marriage is legal, so I’m glad I wasn’t waiting for this thing with baited breath. I hope that at the very least this means that if you get married in a state where its legal you still have full rights even in a state where its not…

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      Yeah, totally. I’m lucky enough to have escaped to civilization, but for half my life I’ve lived in Wyoming and Idaho and my homogay friends still in those states are still just as fucked today as they were yesterday.

      I’m super thrilled for those of you who actually *did* win a thing today, though!

  17. Thumb up 4

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    This is super awesome for those of you who actually will benefit from it, but I can’t help being a little uncomfortable. It seems to me that a lot of these ruling wasn’t so much about affirming the basic humanity of LGBT folks, but rather about privileging “states’ rights” above all else. Which, when it comes to civil rights, is problematic as fuck. Most of the queer folks I know live in Wyoming and Idaho and they will never, ever be able to get married unless the federal government FORCES those states to stop sucking quite so hard.

    I’m just going to post a quote from this post by Lydia Crabtree because these are my basic feelings on the matter:

    “I am struck at how yesterday the idea that there is discrimination against minority voters was scoffed at by the Supreme Court and today that same Court embraced the idea that the United States is discriminating against same sex marriage. It is almost as if we as a society do not have an ability to hold in our minds the prejudice of two groups at the same time. In both cases, these fights have been sent back to the state level – upholding the view that state rights is paramount. As a Southerner this disturbs me. I am all too familiar with what happens when States have control of making and governing minority groups. Things here in Georgia are unlikely to change for my friends who wish to marry whom they love regardless of gender. Just as I suspect that more voting laws will be attempted making voting more difficult for minority groups and redrawing district lines to keep Georgia a red state for as long as possible, given the fact that these practices of voter suppression have been on going. I do not think the United States people should breathe a sigh of relief. This Court clearly shows the great imbalance between the will of the people and the people who hold power. A clear reflection of the disparity of power between the will of the people and the Senate and Congress. Now isn’t the time to celebrate, it is the time to recognize two important thing. 1. Any minority discrimination is too much discrimination, whether the issue is around same-sex marriage or voting rights. 2. If the states retain the right to restrict minority groups indirectly, we should understand the dangerous precedent and remember the historic cost of state rights throughout history. “

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