While same-sex marriage supporters hailed on Wednesday historic Supreme Court decisions that struck down a federal law denying recognition of such unions and left the door open for gays and lesbians to wed once again in California, opponents vowed to keep up their campaign in a pitched state-by-state battle.
The justices struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law passed by Congress that barred recognition of same-sex marriages and thereby denied more than 1,100 benefits to married gay and lesbian couples. They also ruled that the plaintiffs in the case of Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California, did not have the legal standing to bring that lawsuit. That should allow weddings in the Golden State to resume in July.
"This is the gay marriage movement's Cinderella moment … this is the big legal turning point." said Bill Eskridge, a professor at Yale Law School and a constitutional law expert who has authored many works on legal issues facing same-sex couples. "This is the moment where the discriminations are on the run and the end is in sight."
"At long last, the legal marriages of countless gay and lesbian couples will be afforded the same federal recognition and protections as any other," said Wilson Cruz, of gay rights advocacy group, GLAAD. "Today is a cornerstone for justice and equality -- when our nation once again moved closer to recognizing and celebrating all LGBT Americans for their contributions to our great country."
But opponents said the decision in DOMA upheld another key part of that federal law known as Section 2.
“Which means that the states still get to define marriage for themselves and don't have to recognize marriages performed in other states and I think that part of the holding -- the deference to the states definition of marriage – actually calls into question the Proposition 8 ruling” at the district court level in which it was struck down, said John Eastman, chairman of the National Organization for Marriage, which has spent tens of millions of dollars to bring votes in dozens of states blocking same-sex
“We clearly have a mixed ruling here. Justice Kennedy did not say that all states must recognize same-sex marriage. In fact, his opinion is full of deference to the states determination of marriage policy."
Same-sex marriage has been fought over at the ballot box in almost every state, debated in many state legislatures, and become the subject of several court battles for nearly 20 years. Though the decisions were disappointing for anti-gay marriage activists, they did leave the state battleground open, where opponents have have been working on 36 separate bans on same-sex marriage. A dozen states, plus the District of Columbia, allow gays and lesbians to tie the knot.
“The battle is going to continue to be fought out in the states as we fully expected," Eastman said, adding that he thought there could also be a new challenge around Proposition 8.
The Family Research Council, which opposes same-sex marriage, said they were disappointed, too, but were pleased that the court didn't impose the sweeping nationwide redefinition of natural marriage that was sought.
“Time is not on the side of those seeking to create same-sex 'marriage.' As the American people are given time to experience the actual consequences of redefining marriage, the public debate and opposition to the redefinition of natural marriage will undoubtedly intensify,” President Tony Perkins said in a statement.
"We are encouraged that the court learned from the disaster of Roe v. Wade and refrained from redefining marriage for the entire country.”
But supporters of same-sex marriage – and the plaintiff in the DOMA case, Edie Windsor – they believe their time has come.
"DOMA violated the fundamentally American principles of fairness and equality," Windsor, 84, said in a statement. "Because of today's Supreme Court ruling, every child born today will be able to grow up in a world without DOMA – a world where the federal government won't discriminate against their marriages no matter who they are. I know Thea (her late wife) would have been so happy and proud to see how far we have come in our fight to ensure that all gay and lesbian couples are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve."
“I think they're enormous victories for our community," said Chris Clark, a senior attorney at Lambda Legal. "This means very real things for people and their families," he said, citing the benefits denied to them under DOMA.