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Supreme Court strikes down key part of DOMA, dismisses Prop. 8 case
CBS News The gay rights movement saw a significant victory at the Supreme Court Wednesday, even as the court dodged the fundamental issue of whether marriage is a constitutionally-protected right for all couples, gay or straight.
In a 5-4 ruling in United States v. Windsor, the court struck down a provision of the 17-year-old Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denies federal benefits -- like Social Security benefits or the ability to file joint tax returns -- to same-sex couples legally married.
"DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority. Kennedy was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
At the same time, the court ruled 5-4 that the defendants in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry, which considered the constitutionality of California's same-sex marriage ban (called Proposition 8), have no standing in court. Supporters of Prop. 8 brought the case to the Supreme Court after a lower court struck down the law but California's governor and attorney general declined to defend it. By dismissing the case on procedural grounds, the court passed up the opportunity to issue a significant ruling on the issue of marriage.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Antonin Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan.
The practical impact of dismissing the Prop. 8 case is limited. It leaves the lower court ruling striking down Prop. 8 in place, applying statewide at best. However, the ruling may apply only to couples who directly challenged Prop. 8, or the counties in which they originally made those challenges. The lawyers who defended Prop. 8 said Wednesday that they are committed to seeing that Prop. 8 is enforced in the state.
"We are happy Prop. 8 remains the law of California," Austin Nimocks, senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, said outside of the court.
The impact of the DOMA case, by contrast, is clear. DOMA impacts around 1,100 federal laws, including veterans' benefits, family medical leave and tax laws. There are about 130,000 married same-sex couples in the United States today who up to this point were treated as unmarried as it pertained to those federal laws.
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