Supreme Court agrees to hear Prop 8 and DOMA cases

Fri. December 7, 2012 2:32 PM by Jay Shaff

u.s. supreme court

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Washington, DC - Landing squarely in the middle of one of the most politically divisive social issues in America today, same-sex marriage, the U.S. Supreme Court's conference this afternoon granted the petition question on California's Proposition 8, whether the 14th Amendment of the Constitution bars California from defining marriage to include only unions of a man and a woman. The Court will also consider whether the backers of Proposition 8 have standing in the case under Article III of the Constitution.

Additionally, the Court agreed to hear a Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case, U.S. vs. Windsor, emanating from New York State, which determines whether Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act violates the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of equal protection of the laws as applied to persons of the same sex who are legally married under the laws of their State.

In both cases, lower courts have ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. Stays of implementation of the lower court ruling will be in place until the Court hears the cases, most likely in March of 2013 with a decision following in June.

U.S. Representative Mike Quigley (IL-05) issued the following statement in response to the Supreme Court's decision to hear two cases dealing with the issue of same-sex marriage:

"The Supreme Court's decision to take up the issue of same-sex marriage is a major step forward for lesbian and gay Americans who have long fought for their constitutional right to fairness and equality. The Defense of Marriage Act is an affront to our country's values of ‘life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,' and I hope the Supreme Court will rule against this unjust legislation so that all Americans can be assured the same civil rights under the law."

Proposition 8, a ballot initiative which outlawed same-sex marriage in California, passed by a narrow margin in November of 2008. Subsequent lawsuits led to a 2010 trial with gay jurist Judge Vaughn Walker ruling in favor of opponents of the law, saying that Prop 8 discriminates on the basis of sexual orientation and gender. Attempts by proponents of Prop 8 to have the ruling set aside because Walker is gay were unsuccessful.

Edith Windsor's challenge to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) came from her being forced to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes after the death of her spouse because their marriage was not recognized under federal law. If federal law accorded their marriage the same status as different-sex marriages recognized by their state, she would have paid no taxes.

In October of 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit, The Court affirmed the decision in the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, which found Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional, as it defines the term marriage as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife" and spouse as "a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife".

In the elections of last month, voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington overwhelmingly approved same-sex marriage. Voters in Minnesota voted down a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. Gay marriage is now legal in nine states as well as the District of Columbia.

"While the cases progress in the Supreme Court, we must not lose sight of the work that remains at the state level," said Bernard Cherkasov, CEO of Equality Illinois. "Our opponents are likely to make every effort during this period to try to stymie progress in Illinois, saying we should wait to hear from the court. Given the success of marriage equality initiatives in the General Election and growing support for it throughout the country including Illinois, we need to continue to press for action in our state."

"This is an incredibly significant and historic moment," said Anthony Martinez executive director of The Civil Rights Agenda. "The Supreme Court could rule on whether the federal definition of marriage is valid, as set forth in Section three of DOMA which currently defines it as only between a man and a woman, and whether the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment applies to Proposition 8 in California. Both decisions could have incredible implications for the rights of gays and lesbians to enter into marriage in the United States. With that said, the courts orders are complex and could allow them to side step ruling on the merits of either case, so we must continue to push for equal marriage rights in Illinois."

John O'Connor, Executive Director of Equality California said: "While we would have preferred for the court to decline to hear the Prop. 8 case — which would have immediately restored the freedom to marry in California — we've prepared for this and we intend to file a friend-of-the-court brief urging the court to find Prop. 8 unconstitutional."

Jon Davidson, Legal Director at Lambda Legal, issued the following statement: "This is an exciting moment in our journey toward equality. DOMA is a terrible law that forces our government to discriminate against loving same-sex couples, and it is time for it to go. It is clear that DOMA's days are numbered. Every one of the cases that the Court was considering makes a clear and compelling case for striking down this outrageous and discriminatory law. As we have throughout this litigation, we will contribute support and file a friend-of-the-court brief. We look forward to working with the ACLU and other sister organizations in making this case before the Court."