In a pair of major victories for the gay rights movement,the Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that married same-sex couples were entitled to federal benefits and,by declining to decide a case from California,effectively allowed same-sex marriages there.
The rulings leave in place laws banning same-sex marriage around the nation,and the court declined to say whether there was a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. But in clearing the way for same-sex marriage in California,the nations most populous state,the court effectively increased to 13 the number of states that allow such unions.
The decision on federal benefits will immediately extend many benefits to couples in the states where same-sex marriage is legal,and it will give the Obama administration the ability to broaden other benefits through executive actions.
The case concerning Californias ban on same-sex marriage,Proposition 8,was decided on technical grounds,with the majority saying that it was not properly before the court. Because officials in California had declined to appeal a trial courts decision against them and because the proponents of Proposition 8 were not entitled to step into the states shoes to appeal the decision,the court said,it was powerless to issue a decision. That left in place a trial court victory for two same-sex couples who had sought to marry.
The decision on the federal law was 5 to 4,with Justice Anthony M Kennedy writing the majority opinion,which the four liberal-leaning justices joined. The federal statute is invalid,for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State,by its marriage laws,sought to protect in personhood and dignity, Justice Kennedy wrote. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others,the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment. The ruling overturned the Defense of Marriage Act,which passed with bipartisan support and which President Bill Clinton signed.
Opponents of same-sex marriage vowed to push for a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage while gay rights advocates said they would continue their push to legalise gay marriage in new states.