The U.S. Supreme Court's rulings Wednesday on same-sex marriage were met with cheers of "victory" from civil rights organizations nationwide, while conservative groups maintained the decisions left the national debate over gay marriage unresolved.
"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.
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 ruling barring enforcement of California's ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8.
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."
Jenner & Block partner Paul Smith, who chairs the firm's appellate practice and brought early challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, said in a statement that the court's decision "recognizes correctly that the Defense of Marriage Act serves no rational federal purpose and was enacted only to demean those married couples who happen to be same-sex couples."
Smith predicted the issue of same-sex marriage would likely come back before the Supreme Court. "In the other 37 states that do not currently have marriage equality, the fight will continue under state law and federal law, democratically and in court," he said, adding that he expected public opinion and state laws to shift more in favor of same-sex marriage moving forward.
The high court rulings were criticized by conservatives. 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."
Tom Fitton, president of Judicial Watch, said the decisions Wednesday were "political power grabs that undermine the very notion of self-governance and the rule of law." He decried the court's "judicial activism," which he said "undermined the confidence of millions of Americans that it can fairly apply the law on controversial social issues."
The Coalition of African-American Pastors said the Supreme Court had "succumbed to political pressure by voting to weaken the sacred institution."
Griffin noted that the rulings only affected individuals in states that had already adopted laws permitting same-sex marriage. "Tomorrow we turn our attention to the millions of LGBT people who don't feel the reach of these decisions," he said in his statement. "From the Rocky Mountains to the heart of the South, it's time to push equality forward until every American can marry the person they love and all LGBT people are guaranteed equal protection under the law."
In Washington, the Washington National Cathedral issued a statement saying it would be ringing its bells later Wednesday in celebration.
The Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said in a statement that the DOMA ruling was not only a victory for gay rights advocates, "but more broadly vindicates a robust view of individual liberty as protected by the Constitution." The group said it was "axiomatic" that the federal government should treat all people equally and recognize state marriage laws.
Ilona Turner, legal director of the Transgender Law Center, said in a statement that the court's ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act meant that transgender individuals whose marriages were "legally considered 'same-sex' can now be confident that their marriages will receive the full respect and recognition they are entitled to from the federal government."
Zoe Tillman is a reporter for The National Law Journal, a Legal affiliate based in New York. This article first appeared on The BLT: The Blog of Legal Times. •