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Same Sex Marriage Verdict from Supreme Court and some responses

The New York Times


Lou Dematteis/Reuters

June 26, 2013

Two Major Rulings Bolster Gay Marriage


WASHINGTON — Married gay and lesbian couples are entitled to federal benefits, the Supreme Court ruled on Wednesday in a major victory for the gay rights movement.

In a second decision, the court declined to say whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. Instead, the justices said that a case concerning California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8, was not properly before them. Because officials in California had declined to appeal a trial court’s decision against them and because the proponents of Proposition 8 were not entitled to step into the state’s shoes to appeal the decision, the court said, it was powerless to issue a decision.

The ruling leaves in place laws banning same-sex marriage around the nation. Its consequences for California were not immediately clear, but many legal analysts say that same-sex marriages are likely to resume there in a matter of weeks.

The decision on the federal law was 5 to 4, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy writing the majority opinion, which the four liberal-leaning justices joined.

“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,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. was in the minority, as were Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr.

The ruling overturned the Defense of Marriage Act, which passed with bipartisan support and which President Bill Clinton signed.

The decision will immediately extend some federal benefits to same-sex couples, but it will also raise a series of major questions for the Obama administration about how aggressively to overhaul references to marriage throughout the many volumes that lay out the laws of the United States.

“In the majority’s telling, this story is black-and-white: Hate your neighbor or come along with us,” Justice Scalia wrote in his dissent. “The truth is more complicated.”

Justice Scalia read from his dissent on the bench, a step justices take in a small share of cases, typically to show that they have especially strong views.

Justice Kennedy, in his opinion, wrote that the law was “unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”

The case on the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, United States v. Windsor, No. 12-307, considered the part of the law that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman for purposes of federal benefits. (A different part of the law, allowing states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages from other states, was not before the court.)

The case concerned two New York City women, Edith Windsor and Thea Clara Spyer, who married in 2007 in Canada. Ms. Spyer died in 2009, and Ms. Windsor inherited her property. The 1996 law did not allow the Internal Revenue Service to treat Ms. Windsor as a surviving spouse, and she faced a tax bill of about $360,000 that a spouse in an opposite-sex marriage would not have had to pay. Ms. Windsor sued, and last year the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, in New York, struck down the 1996 law.

Until 2011, the Justice Department defended the law in court, as it typically does all acts of Congress. That year, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. announced that he and President Obama had concluded that the law was unconstitutional and unworthy of defense in court, but that the administration would continue to enforce the law. After the Justice Department stepped aside, House Republicans intervened to defend the law. Although the administration’s position prevailed in the lower courts, the Justice Department filed an appeal to the Supreme Court, saying the final decision should come from the highest court.

 To read more:


June 26, 2013

Federal Court Speaks, but Couples Still Face State Legal Patchwork


WASHINGTON — Consider two women living at Keesler Air Force Base in Biloxi, Miss., who travel to Maine to get married. When they get back to the base, the military will now recognize their marriage, affording them a variety of benefits that would go to any married couple, like health care and a housing allowance.

But once they exit Keesler’s gates, they will find their marriage license means nothing to the state of Mississippi, where same-sex couples cannot adopt children and employers can fire someone who is gay.

What about the case of a gay couple who married in Des Moines but decide to move to Miami to spend their retirement away from the punishing Iowa winters? If one of them dies there, the other may not be able to collect the surviving spouse’s Social Security benefits.

The Supreme Court’s decision on Wednesday, in United States v. Windsor, to declare that the Defense of Marriage Act violated the Constitution went further than the federal government ever has in extending equal rights to same-sex couples. But it left untouched the thicket of conflicting state and local laws that deny gays and lesbians in the vast majority of states the benefits and legal recognition that marriage provides.

A state line — not a minister, a rabbi or a justice of the peace — still decides who is married and who is not. This disparate treatment under the law is likely to remain unless the 37 states that do not permit same-sex unions reverse course, or if the Supreme Court revisits the question in a broader case and issues a ruling that establishes a constitutional right to marriage. Given the court’s decision in a case involving California’s Proposition 8 on Wednesday, the number of states where gay marriage is legal rose to 13.

Even as gay rights advocates celebrated a historic step forward on Wednesday, many of them were already eyeing the next legal frontier that could deliver the universal recognition of marriage rights that eluded them this time.

“Living in this kind of patchwork country is becoming less and less tenable,” said Susan Sommer, the director of constitutional litigation for Lambda Legal, the gay rights group. “If we’re going to have federal benefits and recognition, it certainly makes a state’s withholding of the freedom to marry come with that much greater a cost — an impairment of liberty.”

Even factoring out the conflicts and inequities that remain in state law, federal law and policy will need an overhaul to accommodate the court’s Windsor decision.

Despite its historic sweep, the court’s ruling came with a large question mark: It may require Congress to make some of the legal changes necessary to ensure that all married same-sex couples can receive the benefits of federal programs like Social Security and veterans’ payments.

President Obama said Wednesday that he had directed the attorney general to conduct a prompt review of federal benefits and obligations to ensure that the decision is “implemented swiftly and smoothly.” The White House has told gay rights advocates that it has already started looking into what changes it might be able to make through administrative and executive orders, steps that would not require Congressional approval. The Justice Department has created a special task force for the job.

The Democrat-controlled Senate is expected to act quickly on legislation introduced by Dianne Feinstein of California on Wednesday that would ensure same-sex couples are not excluded from federal benefits even if they live in states where their marriages are not recognized. But without the Republican-led House’s approval, any such measure could not become law.

The confusion arises from the various ways the government considers eligibility for spousal benefits. Different agencies use different criteria in judging whether a marriage is valid. They could, for instance, consider the marriage valid only if the state where the couple currently live recognizes it. Or they could look to the state where the couple filed their most recent tax return, or where they lived when they applied for benefits, or where they were married.

“It’s not just a matter of whether you have a valid marriage license. It’s, Do you reside in a state that recognizes it?” said Brian Moulton, the legal director for the Human Rights Campaign.

Inevitably there will be some disparities in states where a couple are married in the eyes of the federal government but not in the eyes of the state.

“We are going to end up seeing couples in a range of different sets of circumstances that invariably highlight the remaining inequalities,” Mr. Moulton added.

To read more:


News about Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions, and Domestic Partnerships, including commentary and archival articles published in The New York Times.

Same-Sex Marriage, Civil Unions, and Domestic Partnerships Chronology

1.   Jun. 27, 2013

California officials and legal scholars say that it will probably be about a month before same-sex marriages can be performed in wake of Supreme Court decision that effectively permits legal gay marriages in state. MORE »

2.   Jun. 27, 2013

Frank Bruni Op-Ed column observes that Supreme Court's rulings on gay marriage have consequences beyond the law, particularly in way society as a whole views homosexuals; relates reaction of family of Tyler Clementi, Rutgers University student who committed suicide in 2010, to the rulings. MORE »

3.   Jun. 27, 2013

Supreme Court decision finding Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional leaves untouched thicket of conflicting state and local laws that deny gays ad lesbians in vast majority of states th benefits and legal recognition that marriage provides; many gay rights advocates are eyeing next legal frontier that could deliver universal recognition of marriage rights


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