Proposition 8 — California's voter-approved ban on gay marriage — was effectively blocked by the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, which ruled 5-4 that Prop 8 proponents lacked legal standing to appeal a lower-court ruling that invalidated the law. The Supreme Court's action clears the way for legal gay marriage to resume in California. Read the full decision here.
It was a technical ruling that said nothing at all about the constitutionality of same-sex marriage itself, but rather left in place a trial court's declaration that Prop 8 is unconstitutional. That outcome probably will allow state officials to order the resumption of same-sex weddings in the nation's most populous state in about a month.
The high court's ruling did not speak to the validity of gay marriage bans in roughly three dozen other states.
Meanwhile, the Supreme Court Wednesday ruled in another 5-4 decision that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment. Read the full decision here.
That decision wiped away part of the federal anti-gay marriage law that has kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits. The outcome 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.
California officials react to the Prop 8 ruling
California Gov. Jerry Brown issued a statement on the Prop 8 ruling.
“In light of the decision, I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state’s counties that they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted."
California Attorney General Kamala Harris tweeted her opinion that the decision extends throughout the state.
Harris, speaking in a press conference Wednesday morning, added that same-sex marriages could resume in California immediately and that she will urge the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals to act as soon as possible. "As soon as they lift the stay, marriages are on. And wedding bells will ring," she said. However, the Appeals Court said Wednesday that it will wait at least 25 days before allowing gay marriages in California.
The San Francisco-based court said it may continue to bar gay marriages even beyond that if proponents of Proposition 8, the state's gay marriage ban, ask for a rehearing.
"Your office has asked us to analyze the scope of the district court's injunction in Perry v. Schwarzenegger, should it go into effect," Harris wrote in a letter to Brown. "We conclude that the injunction would apply statewide to all 58 counties, and effectively reinstate the ruling of the California Supreme Court." Harris added that the Department of Public Health "can and should instruct county officials that when the district court's injunction goes into effect, they must resume issuing marriage licenses to and recording the marriages of same-sex couples."
For his part, Los Angeles County Registrar Dean Logan said that, as far as what's next, it's still the waiting game.
"Our understanding is that this now goes back to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals where the stay of the original decision was issued. That stay will need to be released and a court mandate issued by, as I understand it, the state district court where the original decision was made. And at that point we'd be back in the business of issuing licenses and providing civil marriage ceremonies to same-sex couples."
Logan estimated the timeline for that might be between a couple of days and a week or so.
California gay couples stunned, heartened by decisions
Scott Coatsworth and Mark Guzman, a gay couple living in the Sacramento area who've been together for 21 years, spoke with KPCC's Steve Julian about the decision.
"The most amazing thing for us was we just looked at each other realized that we are actually married now," Coatsworth said. "We were married four-and-a-half years ago in San Francisco. But as of this morning, we're married."
His partner, Guzman, told KPCC that he was excited about the prospect of being able to receive benefits as a spouse, but felt the decision went beyond the immediate perks.
"The benefits are wonderful, and we deserve them. We all deserve them as Americans," he said. "But the fact that some of the justices who are not really gay-friendly for the most part have decided to read the law properly and they're on our side — that really took me."
Guy Erwin, the first openly gay bishop-elect of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), spoke with KPCC's "Take Two" about what Wednesday's decisions meant to him.
"It means that I will probably marry my partner very shortly," Erwin said. "We have a domestic partnership in California, but for the sake of outward form I think we will upgrade to married status now."
Gay marriage opponents: This is just the beginning
Rev. Rob Schenck, the head of the conservative Faith in Action group, reacted with dismay to the Prop 8 decision.
"The great monotheistic faiths have always understood marriage to be, by its very nature, reserved for opposite-sex pairings," he said. "Biblical truth does not change by the vote of any majority, including the majority of this court."
Schenck saw the decision as a strike against the federal government:
"There are plenty of evangelicals and Christians of traditional faith who think it's always good to take power away from the federal government. By striking down DOMA, the court is getting the federal government out of the business of defining the nature of marriage. That's a good thing. The federal government is not and never has been the authority on marriage, even when it tries to do the right thing."
Schenck also expected the debate to continue. "The discussion is not over and will likely last for hundreds and perhaps thousands of years longer."
Obama, Holder applaud DOMA decision
United States Attorney General Eric Holder said that the DOMA decision “is an enormous triumph for equal protection under the law for all Americans."
"The Court’s ruling gives real meaning to the Constitution’s promise of equal protection to all members of our society, regardless of sexual orientation. This decision impacts a broad array of federal laws. At the President’s direction, the Department of Justice will work expeditiously with other Executive Branch agencies to implement the Court’s decision. Despite this momentous victory, our nation’s journey – towards equality, opportunity and justice for everyone in this country – is far from over. Important, life-changing work remains before us."
President Obama also issued some praise for the decision, calling the DOMA plaintiffs from Air Force 1 to congratulate them.
Aboard AF1, Pres Obama talks on phone w Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case pic.twitter.com/J4XUXga6H4— petesouza (@petesouza) June 26, 2013
The exchange was caught on live video back at the Supreme Court.
A plain English take on the Proposition 8 ruling from SCOTUSblog:
After the two same-sex couples filed their challenge to Proposition 8 in federal court in California, the California government officials who would normally have defended the law in court, declined to do so. So the proponents of Proposition 8 stepped in to defend the law, and the California Supreme Court (in response to a request by the lower court) ruled that they could do so under state law. But today the Supreme Court held that the proponents do not have the legal right to defend the law in court. As a result, it held, the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the intermediate appellate court, has no legal force, and it sent the case back to that court with instructions for it to dismiss the case.
DOMA struck down
The DOMA ruling means the court has decided that legally married same-sex couples should get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples.
The court invalidated a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that has prevented married gay couples from receiving a range of tax, health and retirement benefits that are generally available to married people. The vote was 5-4.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.
Same-sex marriage has been adopted by 12 states and the District of Columbia. Another 18,000 couples were married in California during a brief period when same-sex unions were legal there.
"Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways," Kennedy said.
"DOMA's principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal," he said.
He was joined by the court's four liberal justices.
Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.
Scalia read his dissent aloud. Scalia said the court should not have decided the case.
But, given that it did, he said, "we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation."
A plain English take on the DOMA ruling from SCOTUSblog:
The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines "marriage," for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.
The cases are United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry. Below, we've embedded the archived live coverage from our friends at SCOTUSblog.
The full Supreme Court ruling on Proposition 8
The full Supreme Court ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act
This story has been updated.
Correction: The wrong decision was posted earlier this morning instead of the Prop 8 decision.