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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.  

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Antigay animus cited in striking down DOMA

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the 1996 Defense of Marriage statute violated basic due process and equal protection principles because the statute was the product of a “bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group.”

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Justice Kennedy cited federalism principles to support the decision, noting that the states enjoy broad authority to determine matters involving the family, including marriage, divorce, and child custody.

But the decision turns on the court’s conclusion that DOMA was enacted with an apparent intent to harm same-sex couples and treat their relationships as second-class.

Kennedy said a state that recognizes same-sex marriages has made a choice to afford additional protection and dignity to that bond. Once that happens, Kennedy said, the federal government must grant equal treatment to those couples.

“DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty,” Kennedy wrote. “It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper.”

In a dissent, Chief Justice John Roberts took issue with Kennedy’s claim that the law was motivated by antigay animus. “I would not tar the political branches with the brush of bigotry,” he said.

DOMA was enacted in 1996 with overwhelming bipartisan support. The vote was 85 to 15 in the Senate and 342 to 67 in the House of Representatives. Then-President Bill Clinton signed it into law.

In a separate dissent, Justice Antonin Scalia criticized the majority justices for taking sides in the roiling national debate over gay marriage.

“We might have covered ourselves with honor today, by promising all sides of this debate that it was theirs to settle and that we would respect their resolution,” he said. “We might have let the People decide.”

Instead, he said, the majority justices decided that Congress and the president who signed DOMA into law were motivated by bigotry.

“As far as this Court is concerned, no one should be fooled; it is just a matter of listening and waiting for the other shoe,” Scalia said. “By formally declaring anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency, the majority arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition,” he wrote.

Twelve states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage. Thirty states have passed constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage. Six other states passed statutes to achieve the same result.

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