This Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 vote the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that previously denied couples in same-sex marriages basic legal rights was unconstitutional. The court also upheld a lower court ruling declaring Proposition 8 as unconstitutional.
“This is yet another glimpse of hope for our community as we seek full equality and justice under the law, and as Harvey Milk famously said, ‘I know that you cannot live on hope alone, but without it, life is not worth living — you’ve got to give them hope,’” San Diego State Queer Student Union President Thomas Negron said.
In the wake of these decisions, California will now have the ability to legalize same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court ruling is not expansive enough to affect gay couples in different states that haven’t legalized gay marriage.
“The tricky thing about trying to take these decisions and apply them across the board is there are so many different laws in so many states,” SDSU business ethics expert and attorney Dr. Wendy Patrick said.
DOMA, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 created the federally-recognized definition of marriage as a union between a man and a woman. With DOMA, the federal government did not honor same-sex marriages approved by individual states. Additionally, the act gave states permission to deny legal rights to same-sex couples with marriages performed in other states.
“We have a lot to celebrate,” SDSU sociology and LGBT studies lecturer Dae Elliott said. “Now all married couples can benefit for the federal rights of civil marriage. This ruling has limited scope in that it addresses only those marriages by states that already allow same-sex marriage.”
In the California case, Chief Justice John Roberts represented the majority, stating private sponsors of Proposition 8 had no legal grounds for an additional appeal after the initial striking down of the proposition in the San Francisco appeal court.
Same-sex couples will be granted immediate access to marriage rights and the White House will make swift decisions regarding other rights.
Since its passing in 2008, the proposition banning same-sex marriages had been debated in many courts and had been a hot topic for gay rights activists.
“This too, is limited in scope and addresses the issue of marriage equality only for California,” Elliott said. “In both cases, the Supreme Court ruled in such a way as to not block the progress already made, but also, not to give it a leg up.”
Proposition 8 was first debated in the California Supreme Court in 2009, where it was upheld. The following year, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker of San Francisco Federal District Court declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional because of the equal protection clause of the constitution and the due-process clause. In 2010, the California courts ruled Proposition 8 supporters should be granted grounds to appeal.
Last year, the Federal Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Walker’s decision on Proposition 8 as a direct violation of California’s government interest. The courts of California legalized gay marriage, stating the proposition “serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.”
The case for Proposition 8 was heard at the Supreme Court level on March 26, 2013 and the argument for DOMA was heard the following day.
The groundbreaking decision was made on the court’s last day to make hear cases for the spring term.
This story originally appeared in The Daily Aztec.