Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA; Punts on California’s Prop 8

The Supreme Court has finally announced its long-awaited decision on the case of United States v. Windsor which challenged the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act. In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional, on the grounds that the law which prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages violates the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution.

From Justice Kennedy’s opinion:

The federal statute 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. 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.

DOMA was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton. President Barack Obama — the first president to vocally support legalizing same-sex marriage — does not support the law, and had previously instructed the Justice Department to stop defending lawsuits challenging DOMA’s constitutionality.

UPDATE: The Supreme Court has also issued its ruling on Hollingsworth v. Perry which challenged the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, a voter-approved measure which defined marriage in the state as between one man and one woman. Same sex marriage had previously been legalized in the state by its legislature.

The majority decision, written by Chief Justice John Roberts, ruled that Dennis Hollingworth — a private citizen who had stepped forward to defend Proposition 8 — had no legal standing to be in court to defend the law. This essentially vacates the Ninth Circuit’s ruling on the law and paves the way for California to resume marrying same sex couples. In ruling this way, the Court declined to make a broad ruling on the constitutionality of same-sex marriage nationwide.