Supreme Court dumps federal gay marriage ban (UPDATES)

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VIEW PHOTOS | Atlanta celebrates Supreme Court rulings with Midtown rally

The U.S Supreme Court voted 5-4 to dump the Defense of Marriage Act on Wednesday, ruling that the federal ban on gay marriage is unconstitutional. The court punted in the Prop 8 marriage case. And reaction in Atlanta is pouring in.

"DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty," according to Scotus Blog. The opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. He was joined by the four liberal Justices -- Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stepehen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented.

"DOMA is gone," legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin tells CNN. "This is a major, broadly written opinion which strikes down the law on the grounds that it discriminates against gay people."

The decision means that legally married gay couples are entitled to equal treatment under federal law. Some 12 states and Washington D.C have legalized gay marriage, including Delaware beginning July 1. On Aug. 1, gay marriage begins in Rhode Island and Minnesota. Some 30 states, including Georgia, have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage. Six others ban it through other means.

Read the court's decision.

LGBT activists in Atlanta will mark the ruling on Wednesday with Day of Decision, a gathering at the intersection of 10th Street and Piedmont Avenue. The event, organized by a coalition of LGBT groups, begins at 5 p.m. And then they will eat. Because celebrating gay marriage works up an appetite. 10th & Piedmont has seen protests over marriage equality in the past. A candlelight vigil, too.

The Supreme Court heard arguments in two cases in late March. Windsor challenged the federal government's refusal to recognize the marriages of gay couples because of the Defense of Marriage Act. Perry challenged California's Prop 8 ban on gay marriage.

The background on Perry, from HRC:

On May 22, 2009, two same-sex couples – Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo – filed suit against the State of California in federal court, arguing that California’s Proposition 8 violates the U.S. Constitution by denying them a fundamental right and depriving them of equal protection of the laws.

Prop 8 had passed at the ballot the previous November, stripping same-sex couples of the right to marry in California.

The couples were represented by attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies and supported by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), an organization co-founded by HRC President Chad Griffin.

And how we got here in Windsor, from GA Voice:

This case targets Section 3 of DOMA, which holds that the federal government will not recognize marriage except between one man and one woman. It was brought by New York resident Edith Windsor, who married her wife, Thea Spyer, in Canada in 2007.

After Spyer died in 2009, Windsor owed federal inheritance tax of more than $360,000; had they been heterosexual spouses, the inheritance would not have been taxed.

Represented by the ACLU, Windsor won at the district court level; although she had already petitioned the Supreme Court to hear the case, she also won in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals. DOMA is defended by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, a committee led by Republicans from the U.S. House of Representatives, after President Obama’s Justice Department refused to defend it.

UPDATE 10:25 a.m.: President Obama reacts to DOMA case.

UPDATE 10:35 a.m.: The Court punted on the Prop 8 case, ruling 5-4 that a private party had no right to defend the constitutionality of a state law. It also said that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had no jurisdiction to consider the appeal of Prop 8, which a lower court had thrown out. Read the court's decision.

UPDATE 10:39 a.m.: "This is a puzzling decision," Toobin says on CNN. "The decision is that Hollingsworth, who was defending Proposition 8, had no right to be in court." "I'm not sure" if gay marriages can resume in California, he adds.

UPDATE 10:41 a.m.: Scotus Blog breaks down the Prop 8 decision:

Here's a Plain English take on Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage: After the two same-sex couples filed their challenge to Proposition 8 in federal court in California, the California government officials who would normally have defended the law in court, declined to do so. So the proponents of Proposition 8 stepped in to defend the law, and the California Supreme Court (in response to a request by the lower court) ruled that they could do so under state law. But today the Supreme Court held that the proponents do not have the legal right to defend the law in court. As a result, it held, the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the intermediate appellate court, has no legal force, and it sent the case back to that court with instructions for it to dismiss the case.

UPDATE 10:49 a.m.: Ricky Martin has something to say.

UPDATE 10:52 a.m.: Gay Inc. reacts.



UPDATE 10:55 a.m.: Scotus Blog breaks down the DOMA decision. 

Here's a Plain English take on United States v. Windsor, the DOMA case: The federal Defense of Marriage Act defines "marriage," for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.

UPDATE 11:03 a.m.: Georgia Equality says despite the decisions from the Supreme Court, nothing much will change in Georgia

Still, the pair of rulings will have little effect on the nearly 22,000 same-sex couples in the state of Georgia who are still waiting on the day their government recognizes their commitment officially.

“While we had hoped for a more expansive ruling that would immediately affect the legal status of couples here in Georgia, this is an important step towards the full legal recognition of our relationship.” said Jeff Graham, Executive Director of Georgia Equality.  “We can celebrate for our colleagues and loved ones in California and the twelve other states affected by this ruling today. Tomorrow we begin the process of building a movement to recognize our own marriages here in Georgia.”

UPDATE 11:12 a.m.: Justice Clarence Thomas chewed gum throughout the court proceedings today, CNN reports. Make of that what you will.

UPDATE 11:20 a.m.: Mayor Kasim Reed, who can't get enough of gay marriage since embracing it in December, reacts.

UPDATE 12:05 p.m.: Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens agrees with Georgia Equality: Gay marriage is still banned.

“Today, the Supreme Court of the United States held 5-4 that Congress violated equal protection when it defined marriage for federal purposes differently from the way the State of New York defined it. I disagree with the Court’s decision. But it is important to understand what the decision does and does not mean.

“Today’s decision rests on the basic assumption – with which I strongly agree – that the power to define marriage is a power traditionally reserved to the States. The decision does not affect existing state definitions of marriage; in fact, it explicitly says that it is limited to marriages recognized by states as lawful. I agree with the Chief Justice that this limitation means what it says. The definition of marriage adopted by Georgia’s voters is unaffected by today’s decision.”

UPDATE 12:35 p.m.: President Obama called to congratulate Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, two of the Prop 8 plaintiffs. They were live on MSNBC when it happened. It's not every day you win a Supreme Court case, go live on a national news channel and get a call from POTUS.

UPDATE 12:45 p.m.: President Obama's official statement on the DOMA decision.
I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act.  This was discrimination enshrined in law.  It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people.  The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it.  We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better.

So we welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.

On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital.  How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions.  Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that. 

The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts:  when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.  

UPDATE 1:05 p.m.: Mayor Kasim Reed's statement on the DOMA decision.

“The Supreme Court ruling to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act was a courageous decision and is an enormous victory for loving, married couples and their families. It is my hope that today’s decision puts our nation on an inevitable path toward the day when all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, can enjoy equal protection under the law and marry the ones they love. ”


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