The Supreme Court's Gay Marriage Day: Judgment, Joy and a Split Decision's Fate

In two 5-4 decisions, the Court determined that the federal government must now recognize gay marriages from states where it is legal — and, in essence, that California can rejoin that group of states. 

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In two 5-4 decisions, the Court determined that the federal government could not define marriage to exclude same-sex couples and that the Court couldn't reverse a decision in which California's Proposition 8 was deemed unconstitutional. So the feds must now recognize gay marriages from states where it is legal, and California can rejoin that group of states. For a complete outline of the effects of the decisions, see our additional coverage. Details on each are included below.

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Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) decision | The Prop 8 decision | The reactions | About the cases | Getting ready for the day

The latest

Update, 5:55 p.m.: Among those celebrating the Court's decision today: Jean Podrasky, Chief Justice Roberts' openly gay cousin. Talking Points Memo spoke with her. “I am so excited. I am absolutely overwhelmed,” she told the site's Brian Beutler. “I can now get married. I feel like my partner and I have been in limbo for several years. We’ve been engaged for a couple years, but now we can start planning.”

Update, 4:22 p.m.: At noon, the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., rang its bells in recognition of the Court's decision.

The dean of the cathedral issued a statement about the ringing.

Today’s rulings announce a new era for our country, one in which married lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender Americans can finally enjoy the same federal recognition and protection that our laws have for so long extended to their fellow citizens. I rejoice in the knowledge that the justices have reached a decision that makes our union—indeed all our unions—more perfect and certainly more equal.

Update, 4:12 p.m.: The AP's Ken Thomas reports that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which put on pause the state ruling that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, won't lift its stay immediately.

Meanwhile, a group of conservative legislators has announced plans to introduce a Constitutional amendment that would define marriage as between a man and a woman. This is essentially the only step left for same-sex marriage opponents. Amending the Constitution would, by default, make prohibitions like DOMA Constitutional. The odds that the amendment would be passed and ratified by the necessary states is minute, at best.

Update, 2:02 p.m.: California Attorney General Kamala Harris has joined the state's governor (see below) in calling for quick action on allowing same-sex marriages. Her office issued a statement to that effect:

[T]he United States Supreme Court’s historic opinion in Hollingsworth v. Perry means that every county in the State of California must now recognize the right of same sex couples to legally marry and asked the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals to lift its stay and allow same-sex marriages to take place.

During a press conference, Harris stated flatly that she didn't expect further challenges, because Californians' attitudes to Prop 8 had changed. Such a measure "won't happen in California again," she said. "I'm certain of that."

Asked what would happen if a county clerk decided not to allow same-sex marriage, she was similarly direct. "In the unlikely event that any county decided to violate the law … then we will take legal action."

Update, 1:50 p.m.: A remarkable development in New York City, as spotted by ThinkProgress. The DOMA Project, a group dedicated to curtailing deportations involving same-sex couples, reported that an immigration judge halted one such action shortly after the decision.

NYC Immigration Judge stopped #deportation proceedings for Colombian man married to gay American citizen after SCOTUS ruling on DOMA. Steven and Sean, The DOMA Project participants, [Ed. - pictured at right] filed for a green card on the basis of their marriage last year. This morning our intern, Gabe, ran the 77-page ruling and delivered it the Immigration Court five blocks from our office. It was still warm from the printer.

Update, 1:35 p.m.: Religious leaders are beginning to weigh in. The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops called the Court's decision "a tragic day for marriage and our nation," saying that "[T]he 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.

The Mormon Church, which played a large role in passing Prop 8, also issued a statement.

By ruling that supporters of Proposition 8 lacked standing to bring this case to court, the Supreme Court has highlighted troubling questions about how our democratic and judicial system operates. Many Californians will wonder if there is something fundamentally wrong when their government will not defend or protect a popular vote that reflects the views of a majority of their citizens.

Update, 1:20 p.m.: Shortly after today's decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, the ACLU announced its next step: a state-by-state push to repeal laws banning same-sex marriage. And to ensure their success, the organization has hired former John McCain presidential advisor Steve Schmidt. Schmidt also helped during the nomination processes for Justices Roberts and Scalia.

Update, 1:04 p.m.: Ivan Kowalenko was driving to work in Minneapolis this morning, shortly after the announcement of the Court's decision on DOMA. A nearby church started ringing its bells. In an email to The Atlantic Wire, Kowalenko noted that he "had never heard them ringing their bells during a weekday like this before."

Update, 12:56 p.m.: The president, it turns out, was not one of the people watching the Supreme Court decision live — though not through any fault of his own.

Flying on Air Force One, the plane's internet connection cut out right at 10 a.m. Press Secretary Jay Carney, speaking with reporters in the back of the plane, explained. "You had asked how he was made aware of it. I'm not sure if it was the case back here, but we lost connectivity right at the critical moment. We also lost Internet connectivity briefly. But we were able to learn via telephone."

Many people learned via Twitter. The social media service's @gov account reports that 9,188 tweets about DOMA were sent at 10:04 a.m., the highest concentration of Supreme Court-related tweets.

Update, 12:46 p.m.: Attorney General Eric Holder also weighed in, calling the DOMA decision "an enormous triumph for equal protection under the law for all Americans." He pledged that "the Department of Justice will work expeditiously with other Executive Branch agencies to implement the Court’s decision."

Update, 12:32 p.m.: As a bit of a counterpoint, see our round-up of reactions from same-sex marriage opponents, or the collected wisdom of Court pundits.

Update, 12:22 p.m.: Edith Windsor filed suit against the government after the Defense of Marriage Act after her wife's death left her with a heavy tax bill that an opposite-sex marriage would have avoided. (Today's decision not only means the government won't make such distinctions in the future, it means Windsor gets over $300,000 back — "with interest," her attorney pointed out.)

At a press conference, Windsor was introduced by her attorney: "Like Susan B. Anthony, or Rosa Parks, or Harvey Milk before her, Edie has lit a torch of freedom for others to follow." Windsor started simply. "We won everything we asked and hoped for." She described why she was moved to sue after the death of her wife, Thea. But most of all, she said thanks.

To all of the gay people and their supporters who have cheered me on: thank you, thank you, thank you. I'm sure Thea is thanking you, too. … Our own community has come out and seen each other and loved each other in a way that makes me proud and courageous every day.

Children born today will grow up in a world without DOMA. And those children who are gay will be free to grow up and love and be married. …

If I had to survive Thea, what a glorious way to do it. And she would be so pleased.

"Internalized homophobia is a bitch," she said, explaining how she had to lie about her relationship. Yes, there were insults interspersed after she became a public figure, she said, but she was overjoyed by the fight. Her first reaction when she heard the result? She cried.

Prior to her statement, Windsor, too, got a call from the president.

Update, 12:10 p.m.: SCOTUS Blog notes a report from California ABC affiliate KSBW that the state's governor, Jerry Brown, has moved to begin allowing same-sex marriages.

In response, the Governor has directed the California Department of Public Health to advise county officials today that the district court’s injunction against Proposition 8 applies statewide and that all county clerks and county registrar/recorders must comply with it. However, same-sex Californians will not be able to marry until the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals confirms the stay of the injunction, which has been in place throughout the appeals process, is lifted.

Update, 11:53 a.m.: A number of churches in Washington, D.C., will ring their bells at noon to celebrate the Court's decision. At the same time, Edith Windsor will give a public statement, which we'll cover. You can watch it live here.

Update, 11:37 a.m.: The President weighs in. His statement reads, in part:

I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better.

Update, 11:28 a.m.: Speaker of the House John Boehner weighs in.

Update, 11:17 a.m.: President Obama spoke by phone with the plaintiffs in the Prop 8 case.

The two invited the president to their wedding.

Update, 11:10 a.m.: In its coverage of the day, Reuters has an example of the effect of overturning the DOMA:

"Our marriage has not been recognized until today," said Patricia Lambert, 59, who held her wife, Kathy Mulvey, 47. A South African, Lambert said she no longer would have to worry about being forced to leave the country if her work visa expired.

Update, 10:55 a.m.: The New Yorker has photos of the moment Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the DOMA case, learned she won.

Update, 10:50 a.m.: We've already updated our gay marriage evolution GIF.

The Defense of Marriage Act decision

In the first — and more sweeping — 5-4 decision, Justice Kennedy joined the more liberal justices (Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan) to decide that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. That section of the law stipulated that the federal government recognized marriage as being only between a man and a woman; throwing it out means, in short, that the federal government must recognize same-sex marriages.

In his majority opinion, Kennedy wrote:

The power the Constitution grants it also restrains. And though Congress has great authority to design laws to fit its own conception of sound national policy, it cannot deny the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.

What has been explained to this point should more than suffice to establish that the principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage. This requires the Court to hold, as it now does, that DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.

Justice Scalia, writing the dissent, disagreed.

This case is about power in several respects. It is about the power of our people to govern themselves, and the power of this Court to pronounce the law. Today’s opinion aggrandizes the latter, with the predictable consequence of diminishing the former. We have no power to decide this Case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation.

The Court is eager—hungry—to tell everyone its view of the legal question at the heart of this case. Standing in the way is an obstacle, a technicality of little interest to anyone but the people of We the People, who created it as a barrier against judges’ intrusion into their lives.

In his spoken remarks, Scalia stated that "a perfectly valid justification for this statute is contained in its title: the Defense of Marriage Act."

Read the full opinion and dissent in United States v. Windsor.

The Proposition 8 decision

Buried at the bottom of a concurring dissent from Chief Justice Roberts was a signifier of what was to come from the Court on the Prop 8 decision, announced a few minutes later. "We may in the future have to resolve challenges to state marriage definitions affecting same-sex couples," he wrote. "That issue, however, is not before us in this case, and we hold today that we lack jurisdiction to consider it in the particular context of Hollingsworth v. Perry."

And so they did. In another 5-4 decision, it found that Prop 8 supporters didn't have standing in their lawsuit. Or, more directly: after Prop 8 was ruled unconstitutional under California law by a judge in that state, supporters of the ban on gay marriage sued. The Court decided that those supporters didn't have standing, so Prop 8 is unconstitutional and gay marriage is, in essence, allowed. The majority in this decision was comprised of an odd group: Justices Roberts, Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer, and Kagan. The dissent was written by Kennedy, who was joined by Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayor.

Read the full opinion and dissent in Hollingsworth v. Perry.

The Prop 8 defendants and their attorneys celebrate. (AP)

The reactions

Organizers prepared for all sorts of news (vigils and otherwise), but with jubilation on the DOMA decision and the addition of California to a growing list of states legalizing same-sex marriage, the official rallies are on, from the Supreme Court steps to all the way across the country to San Francisco. Below, a map from United for Marriage:

Here's the view from DC....

Instagram user dominikwurnig snapped this photo on the steps:

He also got this picture of the crowd outside Supreme Court bursting into the national anthem when the decisions were read:

And, later, a spontaneous, "Going to the Chapel."

The chant outside the court was, according to the AP: DOMA is dead!

Buzzfeed's Chris Geidner had this great shot of the Prop. 8 plaintiffs:

In San Francisco, which is celebrating its gay pride this week, things started off with anticipation in a crowded City Hall:

San Francisco Mayor Edwin Lee, has issued a statement. We approve of any mayor using the word "gosh":

And here's the scene from the Castro in San Francisco, the city's gay neighborhood, from Instagram user lalamich415:

At the Stonewall Inn, the site of one of the defining moments that gave birth to the gay rights movement, same-sex marriage supporters celebrated. The Village Voice has pictures.

Getting ready for the day

Today's decisions were clearly the most anticipated of the Supreme Court's current session. As The New York Times reports, supporters of same-sex marriage were waiting outside the Court for weeks on the off-chance that the day would bring the Court's decision. With yesterday's announcement that today was the last during which the Court would announce decisions, people camped outside the court building overnight. When daylight broke, it didn't take long for the cameras to show up as well.

About the cases

The Defense of Marriage Act case, United States v. Windsor, focused on a complaint filed by Edith Windsor. After her long-time partner died, Windsor was forced to pay over $350,000 in property taxes on the home that they shared because, under DOMA's Section 3, her Canadian marriage wasn't valid in the United States. The Act was passed by Congress in 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton. He has since declared the measure a mistake, and the Obama administration refused to defend DOMA before the Court. That task fell to lawyers hired by Republican members of the House. (Read the transcript from the arguments.)

The Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, centers on a ballot proposition passed by California voters in 2008 which ended the state's legalization of same-sex marriage. The complaint centers on a couple from the Bay Area, Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, who were denied a marriage license when they applied shortly after Prop 8 took effect. The state of California chose not to defend the measure, so that fell to the group that advocated for the measure to be placed on the ballot in the first place. (Read the transcript from the arguments.)

One thing is clear. As a CNN poll released last week suggests, more Americans than ever believe that same-sex couples should have their marriages recognized under the law.

Photo, at top: A same-sex marriage supporter outside the Supreme Court today. (All photos via the AP.)

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.