Former president had signed it into law.
Bill and Hillary Clinton added their voices to the swell of support of the Supreme Court decision striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the law that then-president Bill Clinton signed in 1996. In a statement, the former first couple praised the ruling and congratulated the advocates that had worked for it. “By overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, the Court recognized that discrimination towards any group holds us all back in our efforts to form a more perfect union," it read. Bill Clinton penned an op-ed earlier this year arguing for DOMA's overturn, saying that the discriminatory law was contrary to "principles of a nation that honors freedom, equality and justice above all."
Hoards of marriage equality supporters—gay, straight, young, and old—flocked to the heart of Greenwich Village to celebrate two landmark rulings by the Supreme Court. Jake Heller films the scene.
They all just showed up. They knew. When the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act and threw out the appeal trying to reinstate California’s ban on same-sex marriage, Prop 8, hordes of marriage equality supporters—gay, straight, young, and old—flocked to a seemingly innocuous block in New York’s Greenwich Village.
Edie Windsor and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn speak to the crowd. (Don Emmert/AFP/Getty)
Edith Windsor, the plaintiff who defeated DOMA, knew she had to go, too. Moments after learning she had won her case, she shouted “I wanna go to Stonewall right now!”
Christopher Street between Seventh and Sixth Avenues. Red brick sidewalk to the south. One lane of traffic headed west. Wednesday night, no cars were getting through. Outside the Stonewall Inn, where 1969 riots remain a landmark moment in gay rights history, crowds celebrated for hours into the night, hugging, kissing, and cheering en masse whenever someone popped a bottle of champagne. The street where gay and lesbian men and women had once bravely defied police harassment had filled with revelers, and I went down to film it:
On a historic day, the retired colonel who became the first service member to successfully petition to have a same-sex spouse buried in a military cemetery talks to Eleanor Clift.
I reached retired Lt. Col. Linda Campbell at her home in Portland, Oregon, about an hour after the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. “I’m still trying to get my mind around this thing. I still can’t believe it,” she exclaimed, the emotion evident in her voice. “The whole world is upside down, topsy-turvy, and joyful.”
Campbell had hoped to be on hand in Washington when the court ruled, but then she realized her hero, Edie Windsor, the 84-year-old plaintiff in the DOMA case, probably wouldn’t be there, and that her time would be better spent speaking at a rally in Portland than flying cross-country.
Campbell became something of a cause célèbre herself when she successfully petitioned the Veterans Administration for a waiver for her spouse to be buried in a military cemetery—the first ever granted to a same-sex couple. She spent hours waiting in line in the cold last March so she could enter the courtroom for just three minutes when the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the landmark DOMA case. She told me then:
Happy gay people rushed to New York’s Stonewall Inn, the birthplace of the gay-rights movement.
“I wanna go to the Stonewall right now!” cried 83-year-old Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the Supreme Court’s Defense of Marriage Act case, moments after the 1996 was declared unconstitutional Wednesday in a 5–4 ruling.
She wasn’t the only one. By late morning, dozens of revelers had flocked to New York City’s Stonewall Inn—a touchstone of the gay-rights movement—to celebrate the federal rulings on same-sex marriage. There were cheers, tears, and champagne toasts at the historic landmark where gay men and lesbians defied police harassment in the 1969 riots that are considered one of the watershed moments in the nation’s fight for gay rights.
“This is ground zero for gay rights,” said Joann Shain of New York, who was outside the bar with her wife and partner of 31 years, Mary Jo Kennedy, and their teenage daughter.
A lot of people are really, really happy about Wednesday’s Supreme Court ruling squashing the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Prop 8. And then there are some others, who are really, really sad that gay people now have some rights.
The twin Supreme Court 5–4 decisions Wednesday morning that overturned the Defense of Marriage Act and removed the legal obstacles for California to recognize same-sex marriage sparked major celebrations across the country among supporters of gay rights.
But not everyone is happy at what DOMA defenders are calling an “Orwellian act” creating “sodomy-based marriage” that begins “the disintegration of the United States” with “the Supreme Court ... in collusion with the President and his injustice department” forcing through “the aggressive action of the homosexual agenda” to “undo what a holy God had instituted.” Hate on ...
Let’s not forget: the case that brought down DOMA was essentially about taxes. Daniel Gross on why gay couples can finally look forward to April 15—and what it will mean for federal coffers.
It’s safe to say that no federal tax season will be greeted with as much joy and glee as next spring’s. Thanks to today’s Supreme Court rulings on gay marriage, in April 2014 gay couples residing in states where gay marriage and same-sex partnerships are legal will be able to file joint returns.
Many of the economic arguments made for gay marriage revolve around the notion of stimulus—let gay people marry, and they’ll spend money throwing fabulous bashes, providing employment to caterers, florists, and hotels. Maybe. If that money weren’t spent on weddings, it would likely be spent on other goods and services. But there’s something to be said for simply making our systems more fair and less arbitrary, regardless of the effect on national finances or employment.
Wednesday’s rulings are a step in that direction. As things go, the right of two adults to file a joint tax return, or of one adult to file a return as “head of household,” might appear to be symbolic. After all, married people often file separate returns. But it means something. Marriage is, among other things, a set of financial relationships that helps delineate how to create and preserve wealth, how to share property and pass it on, how to create financial security and deal with retirement and health care. The tax code—what we choose to tax, which activities get preferential treatment, which activities are singled out for opprobrium—actually says a lot about us as a society.
The court’s promotion of gay marriage is like a shotgun wedding: done with reluctance and without the loving embrace of someone fully committed to the sacred union.
In 1964, when the Supreme Court held that the Civil Rights Act’s bar on racial discrimination applied even to a small, family-owned barbecue restaurant in Birmingham, Alabama, the court rested its ruling on Congress’s power to regulate interstate commerce, rather than on the Constitution’s guarantee of “equal protection.” As Justice Tom Clark announced the opinion from the bench, Justice Arthur Goldberg scribbled a note to Justice William O. Douglas criticizing the court’s reluctance to base its decision on equality: “It sounds like hamburgers are more important than human rights.”
Today’s two Supreme Court decisions on marriage equality might be similarly described. To hear the reasoning of the court, it sounds like procedure is more important than people.
Like the court’s decision in the Birmingham barbecue case, today’s decisions undoubtedly advance the cause of equality for LGBT individuals. Yet they do so not because the justices are fully committed to equal citizenship for all Americans regardless of sexual orientation. Instead the court’s rulings focused largely on process—either how the law was passed or how the law came up for review in the court. And by focusing on process and procedure, the court severely limits the scope and implications of its rulings.
The Defense of Marriage Act is dead. Prop 8 is history. So who can get married now, and where? Eliza Shapiro explains today’s historic Supreme Court decisions.
It’s a gay day in America.
On Wednesday morning the Supreme Court made two highly anticipated decisions on same-sex marriage, striking down the Defense of Marriage Act and dismissing California’s Proposition 8 case.
The DOMA decision was handed down first, to much jubilation among the large crowd of gay-rights activists gathered outside the court. The 1996 federal law had barred defined the institution of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, thus denying federal benefits for gay couples whose marriages were recognized at the state level—like joint tax returns, Social Security, health insurance, pension protection, benefits for military couples, and immigration protections for couples from different countries.
Gay marriage is back in California.
After declaring the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, the Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that the supporters of Proposition 8, California's ban on gay marriage, lack standing to appeal. The state’s controversial gay-marriage ban was voted into law in 2008, but ruled unconstitutional under the 14th Amendment—which guarantees equal protection under the law—by a federal appeals court last year. Today the justices upheld that federal court ruling. This means that, at least in areas where court clerks oppose Prop 8, same-sex marriage will now be legal in California.
Violation of Fifth Amendment.
In a historic victory for gay rights, the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that prevented the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriage. In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court ruled that DOMA is an unconstitutional deprivation of equal liberty, a violation of the Fifth Amendment. The ruling will allow federal benefits—tax breaks, insurance for government employees—to couples in D.C. and the 12 states (13, now that California’s Proposition 8 has been dismissed) that already recognize same-sex marriage.
The Supreme Court permits race to be taken into account in public policy but strikes down a key part of the Voting Rights Act out of concern that Congress didn’t adapt such policies to today’s circumstances.
The Supreme Court’s decision holding unconstitutional a part of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) is one of most symbolically charged decisions in the court’s history. First enacted in 1965, the part of the law the court today struck down today—Section 4—was critical in breaking the back of the massive disfranchisement of African-Americans in the South that had been locked into place since the 1890s. This part of the act had created a regime wholly unique in American history. From 1965, those states and local governments that had massively disfranchised these voters could not make any change at all to any aspect of their voting systems—changes as small as the hours polls were open to changes as big as how election districts for Congress, the state legislature, and local governments were designed—without getting the federal government’s approval in advance. In essence, this system froze Southern electoral arrangements into place until the federal government approved any changes. The federal government then sent federal voter-registration officials into the South to take over registering voters, and this system began the process of tearing down discriminatory barriers to the vote.
Line of prospective voters in a recreation center, Birmingham, Alabama, Nov. 4, 2008. (Mario Tama/Getty)
Over the years, Congress remained the key actor. The question was how long this regime would remain in place and how it would be adapted over time to changing circumstances. Section 4 was unique because it singled out particular parts of the country for this dramatic federal control over their voting systems. At the time, it made nearly obvious sense to single out the six states covered, all of which were part of the old Confederacy. By 1975, nine states were covered (Texas, Alaska, and Arizona were added). And that’s when the system became locked into place. The parts of the country singled out in this way by 1975 have essentially remained covered ever since. Congress itself built in an original mechanism to force itself to update the statute: Congress had to decide to re-authorize Section 4 after five years, which it did, and Congress has had to revisit this part of the law regularly to keep it alive. Each time Congress did so, though, it did not change the formula in any way; by 2006, this system had been in place for 41 years. Congress was required to revisit the issues again in 2006, and this time it extended Section 4 for another 25 years—until 2031. And just as in the past, Congress did not change in any way the formula for which areas were to be covered under this unique regime. Thus, the same nine states that were covered as of 1975 based on their recent voting practices remained covered until 2031.
Now the story shifts to the court. Ever since the court’s first confrontation in the modern era with race-conscious public policies in the late 1970s, a majority of the court has decided cases on the following central principle: race can legitimately be taken into account for certain acceptable public purposes (colorblindness is not constitutionally required, in other words), but that has to be done in a way that ensures that these policies do not last indefinitely. That’s why the court said no to quotas, even as it said race could be taken into account as one factor in academic admissions. To the court, quotas were rigid and ran a much greater risk of being locked into place indefinitely. It’s also the reason the court said race could be used to remedy specific discrimination, but not to respond to more general ideas of societal discrimination—if the latter were constitutionally permissible, the majority of the court thought it would license race-based policies indefinitely. It’s the reason why Justice Sandra O’Connor wrote for the majority 10 years ago that race-based preferences in academic admissions should end in 25 years. And that brings us to today’s decision on the VRA.
The GOP can use the court’s decision to double down on its white, aging base, writes Jamelle Bouie—or seize it as a new opportunity for outreach to minority voters.
If you’ve read a magazine at any point in the last decade, then you’ve probably heard of the Stanford marshmallow test. A young child is placed at a table with a marshmallow and told that she can eat it now or wait a while and get an even better treat. The experiment is supposed to measure a child’s capacity for delayed gratification. The longer she can wait, the more likely it is she has good impulse control, and that is associated with better life outcomes, as measured by health and educational attainment.
Supporters of the Voting Rights Act listen to speakers discuss rulings outside the U.S. Supreme Court on June 25. (Win McNamee/Getty)
In overturning Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act—which sets down a formula for identifying which state and local governments have to preclear changes to voting law with the federal government—the Supreme Court has all but placed a huge marshmallow in front of the Republican Party. But instead of a sugary treat, it’s an opportunity to pursue harsh new restrictions on voting—the kinds of policies that would have been blocked under the Voting Rights Act before the court’s ruling.
Over the last three years Republicans throughout the country have launched aggressive attacks on voting rights and access to the ballot, often under the guise of voter integrity (despite the nonthreat of voter fraud). In North Carolina, Republicans have proposed bills that would cut early voting, require a narrow range of identification cards to vote (excluding student IDs, for instance), and impose lifetime disenfranchisement for felons. Likewise, in Virginia, Republican legislators have proposed a strict new voter-ID law that could disenfranchise the nearly 900,000 residents who lack the required identification. The same goes for a Mississippi bill that could keep up to 40,000 people from the polls.
When it ruled that a Cherokee girl could be returned to her adoptive parents, the Supreme Court came close to invalidating an act that has protected Indians for 40 years. It could have been worse.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court decided Adoptive Couple v. Baby Girl. As an ardent supporter of the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA), the act at the heart of this case, my initial reaction was “it could have been worse.” If fact, two months ago I wrote an article detailing the numerous ways the Baby Girl decision could decimate ICWA and even destroy most federal Indian law legislation. However, Tuesday’s decision was a narrow one. Only one justice, Clarence Thomas, decided to directly question the constitutionality of ICWA, while the remaining justices who formed the 5–4 majority based their decision on a very limited reading of a particular provision of ICWA.
Veronica and her biological father, Dusten Brown. (Jeremy Charles/Washington Post via Getty)
ICWA is a federal statute that was passed in 1978 in response to the disproportionate removal and adoption of Indian children. One of the ways in which the act attempts to prevent unnecessary removals is by forbidding the involuntary termination of an Indian parent’s parental rights unless “continued custody” with the parent would pose a serious risk to the child. In yesterday’s decision, the court interpreted this provision as limited to Indian parents who had previously exercised legal or physical custody of their child. According to the court, any other interpretation did not comport with the well-established meaning of “continue.”
Consequently, on its face, the Baby Girl decision is a limited one. This fact is further supported by Justice Stephen Breyer’s concurrence. In his concurrence, Breyer recites a long list of scenarios potentially implicated by this decision but which he explicitly states are not addressed by it. For example, Breyer notes that this case does not involve or decide whether involuntary termination is applicable to an Indian father with visitation rights, or a father who has paid child support, or a father that was deceived about the pregnancy. Instead, Breyer notes, the Baby Girl decision is fact specific and does not decide “more than is necessary.”
Today’s Supreme Court decision was monumental in that it essentially finds discrimination has all but disappeared at the polls. It’s a big deal, and dead wrong, writes Adam Winkler.
Sixty years ago the civil-rights era took off when a cadre of NAACP Legal Defense Fund lawyers brought a challenge to racial segregation in Topeka, Kansas, public schools. That challenge resulted in perhaps the most important Supreme Court decision in American history, Brown v. Board of Education. Buoyed by that victory, advocates for equal rights for racial minorities fought and eventually won passage of what’s been called the most important piece of civil-rights legislation ever passed by Congress, the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Today, almost half a century later, the Supreme Court once again weighed in on civil rights. Only this time, the court, in a bitterly divided 5-4 ruling, struck down a key provision of that landmark voting law.
Are we witnessing the end of the civil-rights era?
The act has two main provisions, known as Section 2 and Section 5. Section 2, which was not at issue in today’s ruling, prohibits any state from adopting any law, practice, or voting procedure that denies or abridges the right to vote on account of race. Section 5 provides that states, cities, and counties with a history of racial discrimination in voting rules must first “preclear” any changes in their voting systems with the Department of Justice or a special court in Washington. Section 5 was in many ways more effective than Section 2. Section 2 violations are difficult to prove, and plaintiffs can only bring a case after the fact. Section 5, by contrast, works as a prophylactic measure, stopping discrimination before it can occur. Jurisdictions with a proven track record of racial discrimination can’t so much as move a polling place without first obtaining approval from Washington.
After the Supreme Court struck down California's Proposition 8, the four plaintiffs in the case gave speeches expressing their happiness, gratitude, and love. Watch these highlights, and may the wedding bells ring.
In the second day of oral arguments over same-sex marriage before the Supreme Court, there appeared to be greater agreement on the shortcomings of DOMA. Adam Winkler reports.
The Supreme Court has struck down a key pillar of the civil-rights legislation. What does it mean for future elections? Eliza Shapiro offers a primer on the ruling.