Two historic rulings were passed down by the United States Supreme Court this morning, one permanently striking down Prop 8, a 2008 ballot proposition in California that banned gay marriage, and the other striking down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that forbids the federal government from recognizing gay marriage even if a state has decided to legalize it.
In the case of Prop 8, the ruling wasn’t an actual “striking down,” but it has that effect. After the 9th district court ruled Prop 8 was unconstitutional, the state of California refused to continue their appeal. It was an outside group that continued the appeal, and the ruling of the Supreme Court is that the outside group did not have standing to appeal, which has the effect of striking down Prop 8, and gay marriage will once again be legal in California. What this also means is that the ruling is limited solely to California, rather than legalizing gay marriage in all 50 states.
The second ruling by the court, striking down DOMA, is being hailed as a victory for states’ rights advocates. Under the 17 year old law, states were unable to decide for themselves whether or not to legalize gay marriage and see them recognized by the federal government. Even the states that had legalized it, did not fully have the power to grant it. The rights and benefits that come with marriage are made up of a mixture of benefits from the state and the federal government. While DOMA was in place, states could grant their side of the benefits, but the benefits from the federal government were still withheld, essentially relegating the marriages to civil union status.
Under the Supreme Court’s ruling, the federal government will now recognize all marriages that are recognized by the states. Will this impact same-sex couples in Utah who were married in other states? No. Under the limited ruling, the benefits only come when a gay couple lives in a state that recognizes their marriage.
Prop 8 was forever linked to Utah, after the LDS (Mormon) Church became one of the leading advocates for the proposition, donating millions of dollars and services in the campaign to repeal gay marriage in 2008 through its members in both California and in Utah. The Salt Lake City based church faced a nationwide backlash for their involvement from gay rights advocates and their allies who felt a church had no place in getting involved with civil marriages. In 2009, the LDS church officially endorsed a Salt Lake City law making it illegal to fire someone from their job or evict them from their home solely based on their sexual orientation or gender identity.
The Defense of Marriage Act case was brought by an 83 year old New York widow, Edith Windsor, who was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes after her partner of 43 years died. The couple were married in 2007 in Toronto, and had they been a straight couple, or had DOMA not been in place, her estate tax bill would have been $0.