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Americas

US Supreme Court in historic rulings for gay marriage

© AFP

Video by FRANCE 24

Text by FRANCE 24

Latest update : 2013-06-26

The US Supreme Court made two landmark decisions expanding gay rights on Wednesday that recognised legally-wed gay and lesbian couples are eligible for federal benefits and paved the way for same-sex marriage in the state of California.

The US Supreme Court handed a major victory to gay rights advocates on Wednesday after recognising that legally-wed gay and lesbian couples are eligible to claim federal benefits, and paving the way for same-sex marriage in the state of California.

The first decision struck down a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, on the basis that it was in violation of the US Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.

In the second case, the court’s justices found that proponents of California’s 2008 ban on same-sex marriage, also known as Proposition 8, did not have the standing to appeal a previous ruling overturning the measure. Both cases were decided by 5-4 votes.

The court, however, declined to weigh in on whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage.

‘DOMA is dead!’

Gay marriage is an issue that stirs cultural, religious and political passions in the United States. Gay marriage advocates celebrated outside the courthouse. An enormous cheer went up as word arrived that DOMA had been struck down. “DOMA is dead!” the crowd chanted, as couples hugged and cried.

“Our marriage has not been recognised until today,” said Patricia Lambert, 59, who held her wife, Kathy Mulvey, 47. A South African, Lambert said she no longer would have to worry about being forced to leave the country if her work visa expired.

While the ruling on DOMA was clearcut, questions remained about what exactly the Proposition 8 ruling will mean on the ground. There is likely to be more litigation over whether the district court ruling applies statewide.

After hearing of the California ruling outside the courthouse, Anthony Romero, the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union, said the fight for gay marriage would head back to the states.

“We take it to the states - state by state, legislature by legislature, governor by governor, and constitutional amendment by constitutional amendment,” he said.

Equal protection

In the DOMA case, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority that the federal law, as passed by Congress in 1996, violated the US Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Kennedy wrote.

Kennedy, often the court’s “swing vote” in close decisions, also said the law imposes “a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states.”

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia both wrote dissenting opinions.

Roberts himself wrote the Proposition 8 opinion, ruling along procedural lines with the court split in an unusual way.

Twelve of the 50 states and the District of Columbia recognise gay marriage; more than 30 states prohibit it, and others have laws somewhere in-between.

Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act limited the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman for the purposes of federal benefits. By striking down Section 3, the court cleared the way to more than 1,100 federal benefits, rights and burdens linked to marriage status.

As a result of Wednesday’s ruling, Edith Windsor of New York, who was married to a woman and sued the government to get the federal estate tax deduction available to heterosexuals when their spouses pass away, will be able to claim a $363,000 tax refund.

The cases are United States v. Windsor, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-307 and Hollingsworth v. Perry, U.S. Supreme Court, No. 12-144.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

Date created : 2013-06-26

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