The announcement of this week’s U.S. Supreme Court rulings in two highly anticipated legal battles over same-sex marriage drew cheers from gay rights proponents and vows from opponents to continue the fight on a state-by-state basis.
The high court struck down as unconstitutional a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act denying federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples in states that permitted gay marriage. In a separate case, the court let stand a lower court injunction against California's Proposition 8, the state ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage.
Outside the high court Wednesday, leading attorneys in the fight for same-sex rights praised the pair of decisions, which came on the last day of the Supreme Court’s term.
“Today the United States Supreme Court in two important decisions brings us that much closer to true equality,” David Boies, chairman of Boies, Schiller & Flexner, said. “In the decision striking as unconstitutional the so-called DOMA or Defense of Marriage case, the United States Supreme Court held there was no purpose for depriving gay and lesbian couples the right to marry the person they love.”
President Barack Obama directed Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. to ensure the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act was implemented “swiftly and smoothly.”
“I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law,” Obama said in a written statement. “The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it.”
Holder in a separate statement called the Defense of Marriage Act ruling “an enormous triumph for equal protection under the law for all Americans.” The attorney general said the Justice Department would “expeditiously” work with other executive branch agencies to implement the high 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,” Holder said. “Important, life-changing work remains before us.”
The Supreme Court decisions were met with declarations of “victory” from civil rights organizations nationwide, while conservative groups maintained the opinions—which were each divided themselves—left the national debate over gay marriage unresolved.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which was part of the legal team challenging the Defense of Marriage Act, declared the court’s decision a “historic victory,” posting a video online of its staff cheering news of the high court’s decision.
In a statement, James Esseks, director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project, said the “historic ruling recognizes how unfair it is to treat married lesbian and gay couples as though they’re legal strangers.”
“Today’s historic decisions put two giant cracks in the dark wall of discrimination that separates committed gay and lesbian couples from full equality,” said Chad Griffin, president of the gay rights advocacy group Human Rights Campaign, in a statement.
Democratic members of Congress pledged to introduce legislation that would finish the job of fully repealing the Defense of Marriage Act.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), whose Respect for Marriage Act during last Congress got 32 co-sponsors but not a vote, said she was “thrilled” by the opinions. “I will introduce legislation ASAP to repeal discriminatory DOMA once and for all,” Feinstein announced on Twitter.
Members of the House also pledged action. Representative Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Judiciary subcommittee on the constitution and civil justice, said he will reintroduce his Respect for Marriage Act bill from last Congress, “which will send DOMA into the history books where it belongs.”
Republican lawmakers also saw some good when it came to the Proposition 8 decision.
Senator Rand Paul (R-Ky.) went on Glenn Beck’s radio show following the decisions and said the decision affirmed traditional marriage in 34 states. “The good side of this ruling that they have affirmed this is a state issue and states can decide,” Paul said. “I think traditional marriage laws are now upheld in 34 states.”
But Paul predicted defeat for traditional marriage laws at the federal level, telling opponents of same-sex marriage that “the battle is going to be lost on the federal level, concentrate on the state.”
The Heritage Foundation, which has advocated for the one man-one woman definition of marriage, called the decisions “disturbing” and said in a statement that the rulings meant the debate over gay marriage would continue in the states, where, the group maintained, support for its definition of marriage was strong.
The Defense of Marriage Act ruling was “a serious loss for federalism and democratic self-government,” the group said in a statement. “We must work to reverse it and to defend the rights of all Americans to make marriage policy.”