In a historic ruling the Supreme Court of the United States has formally overturned a 1996 law signed by President Clinton. News reports note that “The Supreme Court on Wednesday cleared the way for same-sex couples to marry in California, but avoided directly answering constitutional questions about state marriage laws. In a 5-4 decision, the court said procedural issues prevented it from reaching a ruling on the merits of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state”.
Naturally, President Obama welcomed the news, “Obama placed congratulatory phone calls to the gay rights activists who prevailed in a pair of Supreme Court cases Wednesday, telling them he was proud of their efforts and pleased that the Defense of Marriage Act and a ruling restricting gay marriage in California had been overturned”.
News articles report “The Supreme Court dramatically expanded the rights of same-sex couples Wednesday, striking down federal restrictions and clearing the way for gay couples to marry in California. With a throng of advocates waiting outside in sweltering heat, the court delivered long-awaited decisions in a pair of historic cases on marriage rights. Taken together, the decisions held that the federal government cannot deny benefits to legally married couples, but the justices strenuously avoided even a narrow ruling on state marriage laws. In a 5-4 opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court struck down a provision of the Defence of Marriage Act that denied federal benefits to same-sex couples even in states that recognise same-sex marriage. ‘DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells these couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition,’ Kennedy wrote”.
What is clear is that justices voted on “party” lines with, the case, United States v. Windsor, being decided by the liberal justices, Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan with the conservative justices, Roberts, Scalia, Thomas and Alito all voting against the case in various forms and opinions. This means either there was no attempt to bridge the gap betweeen the two camps as in the Affordable Health Care Act judgement, or more likely, there was an attempt but it could not be bridged.
The news report goes on to mention part of the reason behind the judgment as well as the second case, Hollingsworth
v. Perry, “The court’s rulings accompany a dramatic shift in public and political attitudes toward same-sex marriage. Polls show that increasingly large majorities of voters support same-sex marriage rights. And, not including California, 12 states have legalized it, including three of them since March, when the court heard oral arguments in the marriage cases. Most legal observers believed the shift in public opinion would nudge the justices toward narrowly expanding same-sex couples’ rights while preserving the states’ ability to set their own laws. Tuesday’s decisions indicated that the justices are indeed willing to let the issue continue to play out through democratic processes in the states. In a second 5-4 decision, the court avoided even its narrowest options for ruling on the merits of Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage. The justices said they could not rule in the case because Proposition 8’s defenders did not have legal standing to defend the law in court. Kennedy dissented from that decision and said the court could have ruled on Proposition 8, even though he suggested during oral arguments that the court made a mistake by agreeing to hear the case”.
The decision was met with mixed reponses for the GOP, with some members calling for a renewed push to ban gay marriage, with the piece mentions “John Boehner (R-Ohio), who organised DOMA’s legal defence, was more subdued. ‘While I am obviously disappointed in the ruling, it is always critical that we protect our system of checks and balances,’ Boehner said. ‘A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.’ The court made a point to say its decision did not affect state laws defining marriage but rather was limited to DOMA, a federal law the court said was designed primarily to discriminate”.
The problem however for Boehner is that the hard right of the House GOP, in safe seats, are concerned about midterm primaries and are in no mood to see themselves outflanked by someone to their right. Yet Boehner is equally worried, or at least should be, about the GOP image for both the midterms but also 2016 where he has been struggling to shift how the public, especially the young, view the party. Calls for banning gay marriage and the lack of movement in the House for any substantial immigration reform will not help the Party in the long term.
Shortly after the ruling by the Court, it was reported that the remainder of the legislation would be overturned ,”Democrats in both chambers will introduce legislation this week to scrap the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in its entirety. The move is an indication that the lawmakers, while delighted with the Supreme Court’s Wednesday decision to invalidate much of the 17-year-old law barring same-sex marriage, don’t think the ruling went far enough to protect gay and lesbian couples from discrimination. ‘We should celebrate today — it’s a great day — but our work is not yet over,’ Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told reporters in the Capitol. ‘We still need to wipe DOMA in its entirety off the books.’ Nadler, senior Democrat on the Judiciary Committee’s subpanel on the Constitution and Civil Justice, said he’ll introduce legislation Wednesday afternoon that would do just that”.
The peice goes on to add detail, “In its 5-4 decision Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of DOMA, which bars same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits, even in states that recognize gay marriage, is unconstitutional. But the court did not consider Section 2, which stipulates that states don’t have to recognize the same-sex marriages allowed by other states”.
A different piece has noted the amount of regulations that will need to be reformed/abolished following the Windsor ruling, “The scope of the high court’s ruling goes far beyond Social Security checks and joint tax returns. Its implications extend to everything from policies at the Pentagon to the immigration reform bill now being debated in Congress. Within hours of the ruling, President Obama directed Attorney General Eric Holder and other members of his Cabinet to begin poring over relevant federal statutes and regulations that might need to be adjusted in light of the 5-4 decision to strike down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act”.
Rocco views the verdict from a Catholic viewpoint, “the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, granting full federal benefits to same-sex couples who’ve been married in states which have sanctioned the unions, while at the same time declining to rule on California’s Proposition 8, effectively upholding a lower court’s overturn of the 2008 state referendum that banned gay marriage, yet stopping short of a national verdict on the hot-button issue. To date, some 32 states have precluded same-sex marriage either by statute or constitutional amendment, while eleven others and the District of Columbia have granted full recognition to the unions, no less than three – Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island (per capita, the US’ most densely-Catholic state) – having done so within the last six weeks. Having waged an intense fight in recent years for the defense of traditional marriage – even as a slim majority of the faithful now back full recognition for gay couples – statements from Catholic entities with official standing will be run here as they emerge”.
Ironically, Bill Clinton who signed the law welcomed the overturning of DOMA.
He goes on to mention the statement issued from the president of the USCCB, Timothy Cardinal Dolan, “Today is a tragic day for marriage and our nation. The Supreme Court has dealt a profound injustice to the American people by striking down in part the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Court got it wrong. The federal government ought to respect the truth that marriage is the union of one man and one woman, even where states fail to do so. The preservation of liberty and justice requires that all laws, federal and state, respect the truth, including the truth about marriage. It is also unfortunate that the Court did not take the opportunity to uphold California’s Proposition 8 but instead decided not to rule on the matter”.
He ends his post, “All that said, a Vatican response to the rulings is unlikely. For one, the Holy See is generally reluctant to react – especially in a negative sense – to matters of domestic policy, all the more when they’re decided in the courts”.
It is an interesting juxtaposition that Rome had more sense on this issue than Cardinal Dolan. By saying without any hint of shame that the Court made the wrong ruling Cardinal Dolan has opened himself up to criticism that he is leading the bishops in an increasingly partisan tone. Dolan goes on to wildly insuniate that “liberty and justice” are under threat as a result of this decision which is plainly laughable. Using such over the top language has little place in the civil discourse to say nothing of Dolan’s position as archbishop of New York. The Church has a right, even duty, to speak out where it sees fit, however doing so in this manner does nothing for the reputation of the Church.