Yesterday the Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, a 1996 federal law that denied rights and benefits to same-sex couples, and rainbow flags flew from sea to shining sea.
The Court’s decision was one of two rulings yesterday that addressed gay marriage. In the DOMA decision, a 5-4 majority of the Court concluded that the statutory provision violated the right to liberty and to equal protection for legally married gay couples. The ruling means that the thousands of gay couples who are legally married under the laws of certain states will be able to take advantage of federal tax and pension rights and other benefits that are available to other married couples. In the other ruling, the Supreme Court held that proponents of California Proposition 8, which prohibits gay marriage, lack standing to defend the law. That ruling leaves a lower court ruling that struck down Proposition 8 intact and therefore allows California to resume with state-sanctioned same sex marriages.
The Supreme Court decisions are not the last word on the subject, because gay marriage is not legal in a majority of the states and the DOMA decision did not address a provision of that statute that provides that states are not required to recognize gay marriages performed in other states where gay marriage is legal. Opponents of same-sex marriage say they will continue to advocate on the issue.
I’m in favor of same-sex marriage, and I’m thrilled for my gay friends whose legal marriages are now given all the rights and benefits available under federal law. I’m also hoping that the Supreme Court’s decision helps the United States to put this issue behind us — as opposed to becoming the lightning rod on a bitterly contentious social issue, as happened with the abortion rights decision in Roe v. Wade. It’s time for this country to stop focusing on issues that divide us, and to start focusing on how we can work together to solve our problems.