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The Supreme Court rulings come amid rapid progress for advocates of gay marriage in recent months and years in the United States and internationally. Opinion polls show a steady increase in U.S. public support for gay marriage.
Gay marriage advocates celebrated outside the courthouse after learning of the rulings. An enormous cheer went up as word arrived that DOMA had been struck down. “DOMA is dead!” the crowd chanted, as couples hugged and cried.
Paul Katami and Jeffrey Zarrillo, a gay couple from Burbank, California, who were two of the four plaintiffs in the Proposition 8 case, were both outside the courthouse.
“We are gay. We are American. And we will not be treated like second-class citizens,” Katami said.
He turned to Zarrillo, voice cracking and said: “I finally get to look at the man I love and say, ‘Will you marry me?’”
Before Wednesday, 12 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia recognized gay marriage. Three of those dozen - Delaware, Minnesota and Rhode Island - legalized gay marriage this year. California would become the 13th state to allow it.
About a third of the U.S. population now lives in areas where gay marriage is legal, if California is included.
Obama’s administration had declined to defend Section 3 of DOMA in court and urged the court to strike down Proposition 8.
“We are a people who declared that we are all created equal, and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well,” Obama, the first sitting president to endorse gay marriage, said in a written statement.
While the ruling on DOMA was clearcut, questions remained about what the Proposition 8 ruling would mean in California. Proposition 8 supporters vowed to seek continued enforcement of the ban until litigation is resolved. But California Governor Jerry Brown said the justices’ ruling “applies statewide” and all county officials must comply with it.
“The court’s decision does not silence the voices of Americans,” said Austin Nimocks, a lawyer with the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian group. “Marriage - the union of husband and wife - will remain timeless, universal and special, particularly because children need mothers and fathers.”
By striking down Section 3 of DOMA, the court cleared the way for legally married couples to claim more than 1,100 federal benefits, rights and burdens linked to marriage status.
Kennedy wrote for the majority that the federal law, as passed by Congress, violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.