The Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down as unconstitutional a key part of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act that denies federal benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in the states where they reside.
The decision was 5 to 4, with Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the court’s liberals [Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan] to form the majority. It did not address the question of whether there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriages.
In a second ruling Wednesday morning, the court gave another boost to same-sex unions, clearing the way for gay marriages in California by declining to rule on the state’s Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between one man and one woman.
In the DOMA case, Justice Antonin Scalia read a lengthy and scathing dissent from the bench, saying the court should have left the matter for Congress to settle and had unfairly labeled proponents of traditional marriage as bigots.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr. also dissented.
Roberts wrote separately to emphasize that the opinion did not address a broader right to marriage.
“We may in the future have to resolve challenges to state marriage definitions affecting same-sex couples,” Roberts wrote. “That issue, however, is not before us in this case.”
Still a long way to go, but at least one major plank of discrimination and heartache has been set aside.