On June 26, 2013 the U.S. Supreme Court, in a pair of 5-4 votes, forced the federal government to recognize same-sex marriage in states where it is legal and effectively invalidated Proposition 8 in California, opening the doors to legalize same-sex marriage in that state. In its decision in United States v. Windsor, the court ruled Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional. Defining marriage as legally between a man and a woman, Sec. 3 of DOMA was deemed to violate equal protection under the law for gays and lesbians. In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the court dismissed the case, finding that the supporters of Prop. 8 had no legal standing to appeal a 2012 federal district court ruling that had affirmed a lower court ruling overturning the law.
Striking Sec. 3 of DOMA will provide over 1,100 federal benefits to married same-sex couples (where legal) that before were reserved for only men and women in heterosexual marriages. Despite its decisions though, the court managed to avoid declaring full support for marriage equality. The dismissal of the Prop. 8 case only applies to California and states still maintain the right to legalize same-sex marriage if they choose. However, public opinion polls have shown movement towards support for marriage equality. It is already legal in 12 states and California could be 13.
Former President Bill Clinton, President Barack Obama, and other public figures have given support to the movement. In a statement, the President called the court’s decisions “a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law” and for protection for their children and families, but opponents pledge to continue to fight. House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner said he was “obviously disappointed in the ruling” and claimed that a “robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square” in order to preserve traditional marriage in this country.
Debate will absolutely continue, as full marriage equality is still out of reach in 38 states. As we have seen in our area, the debate is alive and well. Full marriage equality exists in Delaware, New Jersey has civil unions, and Pennsylvania lacks any protection for same-sex couples. However, in the last decade, 12 states have legalized same-sex marriage. Three states, including Delaware, have passed it this year alone. As the debate continues the defeat of DOMA and Prop. 8 shifts the dialogue and we may see that number change dramatically.