The U.S. Supreme Court’s long-awaited decision on the constitutionality of gay marriage bans and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) came to a head on Wednesday as the court voted 5-4 to strike down a DOMA provision that prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages and associated benefits.
Though the judgment was perceived as a prodigious
victory for LGBT rights, it overshadowed an immense drawback precipitated by the court’s indecision to rule on Proposition 8, California’s controversial gay marriage ban.
In a 5-4 decision, the majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices relegated the proposition to the California Supreme Court, citing the law’s legality was not appealed by a state entity, but instead a private party — an unprecedented and highly unorthodox move that the court refused to recognize.
The California Supreme Court ruled in 2008 that the proposition was not in accordance with the state constitution and thus began the federal appeal processes that ended last week.
By dismissing the case, the Supreme Court voided all
federal rulings associated with the proposition, including a 2010 federal district court ruling that deemed same-sex marriage bans unconstitutional under the Due Process and Equal Protection clauses of the 14th Amendment.
Had the Supreme Court not shelved the case, effectively making it a state issue, and instead ruled to uphold the federal unconstitutionality of same-sex marriage bans, every state in the union would have been mandated to
recognize same-sex nuptials.
Whether the verdict was the result of a conservative effort to circumvent ruling on matters of civil rights or a legitimate evaluation of legal precedence remains undetermined. What is clear, however, is that while same-sex marriage bans are unconstitutional according to California law, there remains no nationwide legal consensus pertaining to their legality under the supreme law of the land, the U.S. Constitution.
As of last Friday, California held its first same-sex marriage ceremony in San Francisco since 2008, but the fact
remains — 35 states have enacted and retain gay marriage bans by state decree. Same-sex couples in these states will
continue being denied the 1,138 tax, family, immigration and employee benefits simply on the basis of not being
recognized as a “married”
The Supreme Court’s highly anticipated DOMA ruling may have opened new avenues for gay couples to pursue federal recognition of same-sex marriage, but its dismissal of Proposition 8 to state courts only complicates progressive efforts to outlaw same-sex marriage bans on a national scale.
The decision, or lack thereof, will inevitably result in a complex set of statewide legal battles and appeals destined to prolong the civil rights struggle of the LGBT community.