SCOTUS rules on Defense of Marriage Act and Proposition 8

June 26th, 2013

The Supreme Court this morning struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) allowing married same-sex couples federal benefits. The Court also ruled that California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage, was not properly before them meaning same-sex marriages in that state are likely to begin again in the near future.

School of Law Professor Linda McClain, an authority on family law and policy, offers the following comments on these two major rulings:

DOMA:

“This decision is a significant step in solidifying the equal citizenship of gay men and lesbians.

“Justice Kennedy, author of Romer v. Evans and Lawrence v. Texas, has written the opinion in a way that stresses the impermissibility of DOMA and the lack of a rational basis.  He stresses the dignity to which the marriages of same-sex couples are entitled.

“This is a strong affirmation of the Court’s precedents about equal protection as protecting groups from being singled out for unequal treatment.”

Proposition 8:

“The Prop 8 opinion vacates the 9th Circuit opinion, which leaves standing Judge Vaughn Walker’s lengthy and thorough findings and conclusions about why Prop 8 offended the U.S. Constitution.  This certainly opens the door to same-sex couples being able to marry in California, but the exact details about how this will work are not entirely clear.

“It is striking that this case, which was a 5-4 decision, by contrast to the DOMA case, has a strange bedfellows’ quality – as with yesterday’s Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl case.  The Chief Justice threw out the 9th Circuit ruling because the Prop 8 proponents lacked standing; he was joined by two of the most liberal members of the Court.  Justice Kennedy, author of the DOMA opinion and the usual swing vote, dissented strongly, and was joined by liberal Sotomayor and conservatives Thomas and Alito.

“Kennedy, a Californian, worried about the Court’s disregard for the democratic process in California . In his DOMA opinion, he stressed that New York, through the deliberative, democratic process, had enacted the Marriage Equality Act, choosing to treat same-sex couples as deserving equal status and dignity for their intimate relationships.”

Contact McClain at 617-358-4635 or lmcclain@bu.edu.

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