Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, Prop. 8

by Branden Largent

The U.S. Supreme Court made two landmark decisions affecting marriage equality in California and the nation on Wednesday. 

In United States v. Winsor, the Supreme Court declared the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment. The Court also struck down California’s Proposition 8, a ballot initiative constitutionally banning same-sex marriage, allowing gay marriage to resume in the state.

For Minnesota, and 11 other states where same-sex marriage is legal, the elimination of DOMA means same-sex couples will now get the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples, said Loyola Law School, Los Angeles professor Jessica Levinson.

Justice Anthony Kennedy said in the Court opinion, DOMA “singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty.”

Phil Duran, legal director of Outfront Minnesota — a Minnesota gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender equality organization — said the decisions were “tremendous victories for same-sex couples.”

He said the addition of federal benefits and legal standing makes for a “huge shift in the lives of same-sex couples in Minnesota.”

In the Prop. 8 decision, the Court said there was no standing to appeal the District Court’s decision that the proposition was unconstitutional.

Although the Court’s decision on Prop. 8 only affects same-sex marriage in California, Levinson said the decision could affect ballot measures across the nation.

University of St. Thomas School of Law professor Teresa Collett said she found the Prop. 8 decision “troubling,” because it showed voter-passed initiatives could be overturned by one judge if the state government doesn’t defend it.

“We’ve enlarged the power of the executive branch dramatically, and deprived the people of their right to have their lawful judgments defended,” Collett said.

But Levinson said she didn’t think it was “particularly inappropriate” for a judge to have the ability to overturn a voted statute. 

“The public may not find it hugely popular, but that’s the role of the judiciary — to protect minority rights,” Levinson said.

The Prop. 8 decision also didn’t say anything about the rights of same-sex couples to marry, she said, and instead focused on the legal aspect of the case.

Autumn Leva, a spokeswoman for Minnesota for Marriage, — an organization that supports marriage between one man and one woman — said members were disappointed by the results of the decisions, but relived that the marriage debate remains in the hands of citizens of each state. 

“[We’re] losing the federal unity of what understanding marriage is and what marriage should be — between one man and one woman — around the country,” Leva said.

She said the decision on DOMA also didn’t clarify what will happen to the federal benefits for married same-sex couples if they move to a state that hasn’t legalized gay marriage.

“These rulings in no way offer any firm clarity on how this is going to play out,” Leva said.

Pick up Wednesday’s Minnesota Daily for more on the effects of the decisions on same-sex marriage in Minnesota.