DOMA Unconstitutional, Prop 8 Dismissed. What’s Next?

Today is a historic, if a little confusing, day for marriage equality.

In two separate opinions, the Supreme Court reaffirmed that marriage is fundamentally a state’s matter but left open the question of how to resolve conflicts between state marriage laws. This happened first in the 5-4 decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said the law violated both equal liberty interests by singling out same-sex couples from federal benefits and principles of federalism that keep marriage a matter of state concern.

The ruling, the majority held, was confined to those states that already recognize same-sex marriage, meaning that same-sex couples who are legally married now qualify for benefits under federal law. The ruling did not affirmatively strike state bans on same-sex marriage, meaning that in states that have banned same sex-marriage, those bans stand for now.

In what became seen as the companion case, the Court, also in a 5-4 vote, dismissed the legal challenge to California’s Proposition 8 on standing grounds, holding that the Ninth Circuit shouldn’t have taken up the appeal and that the lower court ruling that struck the same sex marriage ban should stand.

That means same-sex marriage returns to California.

The combined effect of the rulings is still being sorted out, but early analysis indicates (as I predicted here) that the battle over same-sex marriage will move forward in the states. Those states that already recognize same-sex marriage can legally continue to do so. Those states with state-level bans on same-sex marriage can brace for a wave of mini-DOMA litigation challenging those bans, while legally married couples in one state who move to a state that doesn’t recognize same-sex marriage could spark a new, separate challenge for the Supreme Court to sort out: Does the Constitution’s requirement that states give full-faith and credit to laws from other states include recognition of same-sex marriage?

In short, today was a win for marriage equality, but a qualified one. The battle now moves full-steam ahead in the states until it is truly universal.

Like this story? Your $10 tax-deductible contribution helps support our research, reporting, and analysis.

For more information or to schedule an interview with contact

Follow Jessica Mason Pieklo on twitter: @hegemommy

  • fiona64

    As Martin Luther King remarked, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

  • Dez

    I live in southern California. I know there will be a lot of celebrating today. Yay!!!

  • HeilMary1

    What is especially offensive about DOMA is that it’s pushed by pretend-celibate straight pedophile and closet gay priests who swear off marriage burdens for themselves while cruelly denying marriage benefits for the very gay folks they forced birth on. Naturally occurring opposite sex twinning is a major cause of gay orientation throughout the animal kingdom. Will anti-abortion DOMA bullies soon push hormone treatments on suspected gay fetuses? Moreover, DOMA is also pushed by notorious adulterous wife-dumpers like Newt Gingrich and Deal Hudson.