In a pair of rulings released this morning, the Supreme Court held that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, and dismissed the Prop. 8 appeal—leaving the door open for gay marriage in California.
In a reportedly very broad 5-4 decision on United States vs. Windsor, the liberal wing of the court and Justice Kennedy—who wrote the opinion—struck down DOMA on the grounds that it violates the Fifth Amendment, depriving a class of persons from their equal liberty.
Justices Roberts and Scalia, both objecting on grounds of jurisdiction, wrote separate dissents; Scalia was joined by Thomas and in part by Roberts. Alito wrote a third dissent, joined in part by Thomas.
In the other big marriage equality case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, another 5-4 majority, this time the liberal wing and Chief Justice Roberts, ruled that the plaintiffs in the case—who were appealing a California trial-court decision striking down the anti-gay marriage Proposition 8—lacked standing, sending the case back to the Ninth Circuit. Essentially, like Monday's Affirmative Action decision, a punt, the decision allows gay marriages to continue in California.
The DOMA case had been brought by Edith Windsor, whose wife Thea Speyer—they were marred in Toronto in 2007—died in 2009. Windsor was required to pay federal taxes on inheriting Speyer's estate; had their marriage been recognized by the federal government, she would have none. This gave her the standing to challenge DOMA's constitutionality. Here they are together, in old photos from the documentary A Very Long Engagement.
From the end of Kennedy's opinion:
The liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause contains within it the prohibition against denying to any person the equal protection of the laws. [...] While the Fifth Amendment itself withdraws from Government the power to degrade or demean in the way this law does, the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment makes that Fifth Amendment right all the more specific and all the better understood and preserved.
The class to which DOMA directs its restrictions and restraints are those persons who are joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State. DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. 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. 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.
And, yes, the poor interns, in suit and tie (or dress) in D.C. summer heat, sprinting out to deliver the opinions: