Supreme Court strikes down federal marriage law

(Source: WJLA)

WASHINGTON (WCIV) -- The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down the ban on federal benefits for same-sex married couples on another 5-4 vote along ideological lines.

Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion finding the 1996 law unconstitutional. The majority opinion also criticized the law as an invasion of states' rights in defining marriage.

The Defense of Marriage Act "violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government," Kennedy opined. "DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it would tell those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition."

READ: Supreme Court's ruling on DOMA

Kennedy was joined by Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan in saying that the federal statute is invalid, adding that writing a law that would displace the protections of personhood and dignity for any person would create diminished respect for those persons.{}

Chief Justice Roberts joined Scalia in the dissent, saying there is no jurisdiction for the Court to issue a ruling. Scalia, in his dissent, said the Court's opinion in validating its jurisdiction in the case "spring[s] from the same diseased root: an exalted notion of the role of this court in American democratic society."

The Windsor "case does not establish a Constitutional right to same sex marriage. It was important to the outcome that the couple in the case was legally married under state law. The equal protection violation arose from Congress's disrespecting that decision by New York to allow the marriage," SCOTUSblog explained after the decision was handed down.

Outside the Supreme Court, same-sex couples cheered the decision. Several blocks away from the White House, the president's official Twitter account called the ruling historic.

"Today's DOMA ruling is an historic step forward #MarriageEquality #LoveIsLove," President Barack Obama tweeted from his official Twitter account.

Shortly after the tweet, the White House issued a formal statement, calling DOMA "discrimination enshrined in law."

"It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people.{} The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it," Obama said. "We are a people who declared that we are all created equal - and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well."

The president went on to say that he has directed his Administration to work together to see that the changes needed on the federal level be made quickly and painlessly so that same-sex couples can enjoy the same rights as heterosexual couples.

"The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts:{} when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free," Obama said in closing.

On the other side of the aisle though, former Gov. Mike Huckabee expressed his displeasure at the ruling on Twitter.

"[Five] people in robes said they are bigger than the voters of CA and Congress combined. And bigger than God. May he forgive us all," he tweeted.

Bishop Robert Guglielmone of the Diocese of Charleston also said he was disappointed in the ruling, calling it a "profound injustice to the American people.

"Marriage is a personal relationship with great public significance -- not a private affair -- that affects all in society," he said. "I ask for prayers regarding this issue as we work to strengthen, support and safeguard marriage."

Sen. Lindsey Graham said in a statement that he believes in the traditional definition of marriage and that he supports DOMA.

"One key point, today's Supreme Court ruling will not change South Carolina law and I will continue to fight for and defend the traditional definition of marriage," he said.

But one man hopes to change that. Warren Redman-Gress is the executive director of the Alliance For Full Acceptance, a non-profit that advocates for the GLBT community for more than a decade."I was certainly hopeful they were going to rule in our favor," he said. "I was a little disappointed that the Court was so closely divided 5 to 4 but I was happy that they made a decision ultimately that I believe is on the right side of history."Redman-Gress says the court's decision to strike down a provision on the Defense of Marriage Act is a win for equality supporters."In the sense that those of us who have been married in other jurisdictions will now be treated equally under federal law with other couples," he said.

The ruling suggested the Court would punt on the Prop 8 decision before them, sending it back to the state. Shortly after the DOMA ruling was sent down, the Court confirmed the hints in its ruling, sending Prop 8 back to California's court system.

READ: Supreme Court decision on Prop 8

"We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here," Roberts wrote in his majority opinion.

The Ninth Circuit did not have the jurisdiction to consider the appeal, Roberts writes. As a result, the decision was vacated and the case was remanded back to the state court with instructions to dismiss the appeal because it lacks jurisdiction in the case.

Obama called the plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case to congratulate them on the Supreme Court's decision.{}"We're proud of you guys, and we're proud to have this in California," Obama said, according to audio that aired live on MSNBC as the president spoke by phone from aboard Air Force One en route to Senegal. "And it's because of your leadership things are heading the right way. So you should be very proud today."

Twelve states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, six of them within the last year. Another 18,000 couples were married in California during a brief period when same-sex unions were legal there.

The outcome is clear for people who were married and live in states that allow same-sex marriage. They now are eligible for federal benefits.

The picture is more complicated for same-sex couples who traveled to another state to get married, or who have moved from a gay marriage state since being wed.

Their eligibility depends on the benefits they are seeking. For instance, immigration law focuses on where people were married, not where they live. But eligibility for Social Security survivor benefits basically depends on where a couple is living when a spouse dies.

In a sign that neither victory was complete, the high court said nothing about the validity of gay marriage bans in California and roughly three dozen other states. And a separate provision of the federal marriage law that allows a state to not recognize a same-sex union from elsewhere remains in place.

The ruling in that case was not along ideological lines. Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Antonin Scalia.

"We have no authority to decide this case on the merits, and neither did the 9th Circuit," Roberts said, referring to the federal appeals court that also struck down Proposition 8.



Associated Press writers Connie Cass, Jessica Gresko and Bethan McKernan contributed to this report. McKernan reported from New York.