The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act this morning, and ruled in a separate decision that opponents of same-sex marriage in California don't have the legal standing to challenge a lower court's ruling that overturned the Proposition 8 ballot measure that had banned it.
By a 5-4 margin, the high court ruled that the 1996 federal law denying federal benefits to same-sex spouses is unconstitutional. The decision will allow married same-sex couples in 12 states and Washington D.C. to collect federal benefits.
"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," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, supported by Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor. "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."
Chief Justice John Roberts dissented, along with Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.
The Supreme Court's decision involving Proposition 8 in California ruled that a group of petitioners who sought the reversal of a court decision overturning the same-sex marriage ban had no legal standing after the state of California declined to appeal the decision.
"We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to," Roberts wrote in the majority opinion, joined by Ginsburg, Scalia, Breyer and Kagan. "We decline to do so for the first time here."
The decisions are major victories for gay-rights advocates, who have challenged the Defense of Marriage Act in a number of cases brought before federal courts. The Supreme Court ruled in the case of United States v. Windsor, brought on behalf of Edie Windsor, a married lesbian whose inheritance from her wife was taxed as though they had been unmarried. The court's decision in the Proposition 8 matter, Hollingsworth v. Perry, appears to permit California to legalize same-sex marraige.