Civil and Human Rights

‘A historic victory – with hope for the future’

The Post is including in this live blog reaction from several noted Supreme Court scholars. This comes from Elizabeth Wydra, chief counsel at the progressive Constitutional Accountability Center:

 

Ten years ago today, in the landmark case of Lawrence v. Texas, the Supreme Court struck down state laws making gay men and lesbians criminals. Today is another huge step forward in vindicating the Constitution’s promise of equality for all persons.

 

In a resounding decision striking down a core part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the Supreme Court held that the Constitution prohibits the federal government from making legally married same-sex couples second class citizens. DOMA’s Section 3 violated the basic constitutional requirement of equality under the law, establishing an across-the-board rule — applicable to more than 1,000 federal legal protections — that denied to legally-married same-sex couples the full range of federal rights and benefits that exist to help support committed, loving couples form enduring, life-long bonds.

 

As Justice Kennedy explained this morning, the express purpose of the law was to write inequality into the United States Code. It was intended “to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.” As the Court held today, the Constitution does not tolerate such discrimination. It forbids the government from singling out a certain class of citizens for disfavored legal status or general hardships.

 

Justice Kennedy’s opinion seemed to understand the hardship caused by DOMA, from the legal to the financial to the emotional, noting that the law “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.” These portions of the opinion echoed the stories and sentiment of hundreds of Americans gathered outside the courthouse, waiting for the Court to recognize the equal dignity of gay and lesbian couples and their families.  There was palpable joy when word of the ruling spread through the crowd. The Gay Men’s Chorus of Washington broke out into song, giving a moving rendition of the national anthem.

 

While the Court did not take the boldest step possible in the challenge to Proposition 8, which the Court dismissed today because the Proposition’s backers did not have the legal right to defend it in court, the Court’s ruling allows marriage equality to once again be the law of the land in California. The Supreme Court’s Prop 8 ruling let stand the federal district court’s holding that Prop 8’s ban on same-sex unions violates the 14th Amendment rights of gay men and lesbians in California. After today, Proposition 8 and the regime of federal discrimination under DOMA are no more.

 

Today is a great day for equality. And Justice Kennedy’s opinion for the Court striking down DOMA provides hope for supporters of marriage equality who will continue the fight to vindicate gay and lesbian Americans’ right to marry the person of their own choosing. The DOMA ruling makes clear that laws aimed at labeling gay and lesbian couples and their families as second class, based on no more than hostility and animus, run afoul of the Constitution.

 

Justice Kennedy wrote in today’s ruling that the Constitution’s guarantee of equality must at the very least mean that a bare legislative desire to harm a politically unpopular group “cannot justify disparate treatment of that group.” Opponents of marriage equality have never been able to come up with any legitimate reason for stigmatizing gay and lesbian couples and denying the dignity of these relationships.

 

Justice Kennedy wrote the decisions striking down DOMA today and striking down Texas’s anti-sodomy law ten years ago. The final piece in ensuring his place in history may well be to eventually recognize that the Constitution requires all states to follow the Constitution’s guarantee to any person — regardless of race, sexual orientation, or other group characteristics — equality of rights, including the fundamental right to marry the person she loves.

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