America’s recent rapid acceptance of same-sex unions received a stamp of approval in an historic decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday.
In a 5-4 ruling that speaks well of the court and the nation, justices struck down the noxious federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, proclaiming it “unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”
Legally married same-sex couples are now entitled to all of the federal benefits that currently are awarded to the partners of heterosexual marriages. That includes tax law and military benefits.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, elegantly summarized the shame of the federal law known as DOMA.
“DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal,” he wrote. “The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like government efficiency.”
The five justices in the majority correctly wrote that the effect of DOMA is to force same-sex couples into a “second-tier marriage.” The distinction “demeans the couples,” the opinion said, “and it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples.”
A second Supreme Court decision released Wednesday brought more good news.
Justices cleared the way for gay and lesbian marriage to resume in California, saying that lower court rulings overturning a voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage in California could stand.
Neither ruling requires states to adopt same-sex marriage, but some legal experts think the DOMA decision could play a role in future court challenges to statutes outlawing the unions. Partners of the same sex can legally marry in 12 states and the District of Columbia.
While struggles over gay marriage will continue in many states, Americans are clearly embracing their gay and lesbian family members, neighbors and co-workers. They have laid the groundwork for equality by serving their nation and communities well and going about their lives with dignity and integrity.
Though it stopped short of overturning bans on same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court placed itself on the right side of history Wednesday.
The DOMA ruling, in particular, removes a stain from the nation’s conscience. No longer will a federal law allow the nation to treat people unequally because of whom they love and the partners they choose.