“The federal statute (Defense of Marriage Act) is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.”
– Justice Anthony Kennedy, 6/26/13
Blogging while Blue asked back in December 2012 whether or not gay marriage is in Georgia future. Little did we realize how “prophetic” the question really was and that legal challenges to Georgia’s DOMA constitutional amendment may soon be in the offing.
In a not so surprising move, the U.S. Supreme Court rendered a history landmark decision for America’s LGBT community when it struck down Section 3 (only) of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in the – Windsor v. United States ruling. Section 3 pertained to the federal definition of marriage as being only between a man and a woman and spouse means a person of the opposite sex. In the 5 – 4 decision, Justice Kennedy opined that such a definition violated the principles of the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.
Today’s ruling only invalidated Section 3 of DOMA and DID NOT strike down the law in its entirety. Nonetheless, today’s high court ruling is momentous and grants federal benefits and recognition to same sex couples married who are legally married in a state that recognizes same sex marriages. The ruling in and of itself is as monumental for the America’s LGBT as the 1954 Brown vs. the Topeka Board of Education ruling was for the civil rights movement barring separate but equal schools.
The implications of the DOMA ruling go far beyond the Internal Revenue Service having to give Edith Windsor a $368,000 refund check for the estate taxes she was forced to pay upon her same sex spouse’s death. The ruling effective grants survival benefits for Social Security, for military and healthcare benefits for gay service personnel when they are legally married – some 1,300 federal benefit were at stake in the case. Even the hotly debated immigration issue currently before Congress is impacted. Now that the State Department will have to allow non U.S. persons married to a gay U.S. citizen the right to apply for a citizenship as their legal spouse. These individuals must be allowed legally immigrate to the U.S. on a fast track basis – just like other foreign nationals in heterosexual marriages.
Though today’s DOMA ruling was a very narrow opinion, it left in place Section 2 which allows Georgia the “state right” NOT TO RECOGNIZE the marriage of a same-sex couple who were married in another state and choose to relocate to Georgia. Only Section 3 of DOMA was before the court and thus the limited ruling. However, with Section 3 nullified, same sex couples in states like Georgia, who were legally married in another state that allows same sex marriage, should have legal standing in federal court to challenge the constitutionality of Section 2. Thus, the DOMA ruling has potentially opened a flood-gate of federal lawsuits.
On the same historic day, the U.S. Supreme Court served up another monumental victory by refusing to take up California’s Proposition 8 case on the basis of the standing of the plaintiffs who brought the case before the high court. In a 5-4 ruling the court ruled on a technicality that Prop 8 proponents did not have the legal right to defend the law in federal courts, because they didn’t have a “personal stake” in the case. In this sidestep of taking on gay marriage as a constitutional right both Justices Ginsberg and Kagan voted with the conservative majority for the first time.
The Prop 8 ruling effectively leaves in place the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling invalidating the state wide ballot initiative that took away the right of same sex couples to marry after same sex marriage was legalized by the state legislature. This limited ruling applies only to same sex couples in California. But, it leaves open the possibility of LGBT citizens to challenge laws and constitutional amendments banning same sex marriage.
The forefront of the right to marry for the LGBT community now shifts from the ballot box to the courts and be fought again in many state legislatures. The High Court’s rulings on both DOMA and Proposition 8 pave the way for full recognition of America’s gay community as citizens of equal standing. Without fail, ALL Americans benefit when we enact full civil and human rights laws for all of our citizenry.