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‘A giant first step’

After legal battles such as those in the courts of California against Proposition 8 and countless other fights for and against gay marriage, the Supreme Court came out with a landmark decision Wednesday morning.

The court, in two 5-4 votes which would settle the matter on a federal level, struck down major parts of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prevented same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits, and repealed Proposition 8 in California, which previously banned the recognition of gay marriage in California.

The decision, which will now make California the 13th state that recognizes same-sex marriages, is one that is expected to have rippling effects around the country.

Mark Hafen, a member of the university’s Committee on Issues of Sexual Orientation and Gender Identity (CISOGI), said the Court’s decisions were inevitable.

“It’s about friggin’ time,” he said.

Hafen said the decision of marriage equality would be one of the largest civil rights issues students today can witness.

“It’s definitely a step forward,” he said. “Students who are either LGBT or are allied supporters are going to see this as a big civil rights issue, one of the biggest ones they are going to see in their lifetimes.”

The court struck down DOMA, calling it “unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution,” in its majority opinion written by Justice Anthony Kennedy.

“By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment,” Kennedy wrote.

Susan MacManus, a political science professor, said this is just the first part of a potentially long series of legal conversations across the country.

“This ruling is the groundwork for communities in states that don’t have same-sex marriage to begin challenging it legally through the courts,” she said.

MacManus said states that ban gay marriage, such as Florida, may start re-thinking prohibitions following the Court’s rulings, which serve as a federal opinion supporting the legality of gay marriage.

“It doesn’t apply to Florida, because we have a prohibition against same sex marriage, but what it is does for the LGBT community in Florida is encouragement that the same-sex prohibition will ultimately be lifted across the U.S.,” MacManus said. “It may take a little time, but it’s still a giant first step.”

The key question, which has caused the long legal battles of same-sex marriage, is the debate over whether this issue should be decided by the federal government or decided individual states, something MacManus said is determined by the Tenth Amendment of the Constitution.

On the other hand, MacManus said the marriage issue is obscured by social concerns of religion and morals.

There is a sharp generational divide on a lot of moral issues, particularly in Florida, she said.

“Younger voters in Florida are more likely to support gay marriage than older ones — that true across the country,” she said. “With Florida’s age compostion, the generational divide is very noticeable.”

“It’s a moral issue that is intertwined with people’s faith,” she said. “That makes it a very difficult issue. Many people feel strongly about it on a religious ground, and of course America has religious freedom. Part of the reason for the generational divide is the younger generation is much more secular and less tied to religion than older voters.”

But even after the ruling, questions still abound and legalities must be decided from state to state as the topic of marriage equality will continue to be discussed.

“All it really does is push the rock down the hill, and now we have to see how it rolls,” Hafen said.