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The Supreme Court Rules That The Defense Of Marriage Act Is Unconstitutional And Legalizes Gay Marriage In California

In a landmark ruling, the court says that the federal government can’t discriminate against gay couples, and leaves it up to states to create their own definitions of marriage.

The Supreme Court ruled today in two major cases on gay marriage. In the first, they found that the Defense of Marriage Act, which prevents the federal government from recognizing gay marriages granted by states, was unconstitutional because it "singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty."

What does this mean? Now married gay couples have to be recognized as such by the federal government, for things like social security and taxes. How the Obama administration deals with the more than 1,000 instances of the word "marriage" or "spouse" (which DOMA meant were defined in terms of only straight couples) will be another matter. Also, it’s important to note that Section 2 of DOMA, which allows states to not recognize gay marriages from other states, wasn’t in question today. That’s still true.

You can read the full opinion, written by Justice Kennedy, here. The vote was 5-4, with Kennedy, Breyer, Kagan, Sotamayor, and Ginsburg voting that DOMA was unconstitutional. Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas voted to uphold the law, for a variety of reasons.

In the second major gay rights decision of the day, the court, through complicated legal decisions and not argued based on issues of equality, which should have the effect of returning to the district court opinion that says gay marriage should be legal in California (read that opinion here). Scotusblog explained in their liveblog:

After the two same-sex couples filed their challenge to Proposition 8 in federal court in California, the California government officials who would normally have defended the law in court, declined to do so. So the proponents of Proposition 8 stepped in to defend the law, and the California Supreme Court (in response to a request by the lower court) ruled that they could do so under state law. But today the Supreme Court held that the proponents do not have the legal right to defend the law in court. As a result, it held, the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the intermediate appellate court, has no legal force, and it sent the case back to that court with instructions for it to dismiss the case.

CoExist writer Sydney Brownstone was at the Stonewall Inn, where Stacy Lentz, one of the investors in the Inn and agay rights activist said: "I’m overwhelmed. This is monumental, something a lot of people have worked for a long time. … This is an overwhelming moment for America, for equality, for civil rights. There’s still a lot of work to be done, but at this site, and [with] everything that’s gone on to this day, that all started here … it’s unbelievable."