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Gay marriage: Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, dismisses Prop. 8 appeal

US Supreme Court said Wednesday, 5 to 4, that DOMA (federal Defense of Marriage Act) had been enacted with an apparent attempt to harm gay couples. Its actions set stage for legal battles state by state over gay marriage.  

By Staff writer / June 26, 2013

Rainbow flags fly in front of San Francisco City Hall on Wednesday, June 26, shortly after the US Supreme Court decision that cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California. The justices issued two 5 to 4 rulings in their final session of the term.

Noah Berger/AP

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Washington

The US Supreme Court struck down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act on Wednesday, and in a separate decision by a different majority dismissed an appeal supporting a ballot initiative that banned same-sex marriages in California.

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The twin decisions did not address whether there is a fundamental right to same-sex marriage under the US Constitution. But the DOMA decision appears to have laid the legal groundwork for future cases challenging state laws banning same-sex marriages.

As such, the court’s actions represent clear and important victories for gay rights advocates in their fight for equal marital rights for gay men and lesbians. At the same time, the decisions represent a significant setback for those seeking to maintain the traditional definition of marriage as a union between one man and one woman.

President Obama offered his personal congratulations via telephone from Air Force One to Chad Griffin, president of Human Rights Campaign.

“We’re proud of you guys, and we’re proud to have this in California,” he told Mr. Griffin. “And it's because of your leadership things are heading in the right way. So you should be very proud today.”

House Speaker John Boehner, who intervened to defend DOMA when the Obama administration refused to do so, said he was disappointed in the ruling.

“A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square,” he said, “and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.”

Rea Carey of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force said the decisions would mean stronger families and communities across the nation. “Today’s historic decisions are a significant leap forward for freedom and justice for same-sex couples and their families,” she said.

Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage called the court’s decision to dismiss the Proposition 8 case a “miscarriage of justice.” “There is a stench coming from these cases that has now stained the Supreme Court,” he said.

Beyond resolving two high-profile legal disputes, the decisions set the stage for heightened battles state by state over each state’s decision to recognize same-sex marriages or not.

The dismissal of the appeal involving California’s Proposition 8 means, at a minimum, that the two same-sex couples who were plaintiffs in that case will be permitted to marry, but the broader import of the lower court’s order may depend on additional litigation.

The decision striking down DOMA means that same-sex married couples in states that have endorsed such marriages will be eligible to receive some 1,100 federal marriage benefits that had been limited under the law to opposite-sex spouses.

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