The U.S. Supreme Court has cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California by holding that defenders of California’s gay marriage ban did not have the right to appeal lower court rulings striking down the ban.
The court’s 5-4 vote Wednesday leaves in place the initial trial court declaration that the ban is unconstitutional. California officials probably will rely on that ruling to allow the resumption of same-sex unions in about a month’s time.
The high court itself said nothing about the validity of gay marriage bans in California and roughly three dozen other states.
The outcome was not along ideological lines.
Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion, joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Antonin Scalia.
“We have no authority to decide this case on the merits, and neither did the 9th Circuit,” Roberts said, referring to the federal appeals court that also struck down Proposition 8.
In neither case did the court make a sweeping statement, either in favour of or against same-sex marriage.
And in a sign that neither victory was complete for gay rights, the high court said nothing about the validity of gay marriage bans in California and roughly three dozen other states.
A separate provision of the federal marriage law that allows a state to not recognize a same-sex union from elsewhere remains in place.
Same-sex marriage has been adopted by 12 states and the District of Columbia. Another 18,000 couples were married in California during a brief period when same-sex unions were legal there.
The outcome is clear for people who were married and live in states that allow same-sex marriage. They now are eligible for federal benefits that they were previously denied.
Outside the Court, gay marriage proponents celebrated both wins.
“It’s a wonderful day for America. Because we have now taken this country another important step towards guaranteeing the promise that is in our Constitution, in our Declaration of Independence, that all people are created equal, that all people have the inalienable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness,” said David Boies, one of the lawyers for the Prop 8 plaintiffs.
The Proposition 8 plaintiffs – who flew in from California to be present for the ruling – called it a great day for equality across the nation.
“Today we can go back to California and say to our own children, all four of our boys, your family is just as good as everybody else’s family, we love you as much as anybody else’s parents love their kids and we’re gonna be equal. Now, we will be married and we will be equal to every other family in California, thank you,” said plaintiff Kris Perry, who stood next to her partner, Sandy Stier.
Conservatives opposed to gay marriage vowed the fight is not over.
“The Supreme Court has no authority when it comes to the nature of marriage. That authority belongs to the creator, whom our founders declared is the source of all our rights. The public conversation over marriage continues and that is a good thing,” said the Reverend Rob Schenck of the Evangelical Church Alliance.
US President Barack Obama praised the court’s ruling on the federal marriage act, which he labelled “discrimination enshrined in law”.
In New York, the 84-year-old Defence of Marriage plaintiff Edie Windsor hailed the decision.
“We won everything we asked and hoped for. Wow,” she said.
And in California, cheers, tears and hugs at celebrations from Los Angeles to San Francisco when the decision was announced.
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