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“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Kennedy wrote.
Kennedy, often the court’s swing vote in close decisions, said the law imposed “a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the states.”
Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia both wrote dissenting opinions in the DOMA case.
Roberts went out of his way to state that the court was not making any big pronouncements about gay marriage. The court, he said, did not have before it the question of whether states “may continue to utilize the traditional definition of marriage.”
In Scalia’s lengthy opinion, a summary of which he read from the bench, he accused the majority of ignoring procedural obstacles about whether the court should have heard the case in order to reach its desired result.
“This is jaw-dropping,” he said of Kennedy’s analysis.
As a result of the DOMA ruling, Edith Windsor of New York, who was married to a woman and sued the government to get the federal estate tax deduction available to heterosexuals when their spouses die, will be able to claim a $363,000 tax refund.
One of Windsor’s lawyers in the Supreme Court case, Roberta Kaplan, said the decision “will be marked by future generations as a giant step forward along our nation’s continuing path towards equality.”
Numerous public figures including former President Bill Clinton, who in 1996 signed the DOMA law, and prominent groups including the American Academy of Pediatrics have come out this year in support of same-sex marriage and gay civil rights.
Individual members of Congress - Democrats and Republicans - also voiced new support for gay marriage this year.
Even with recent developments, there is still significant opposition among Republicans, including House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner, who had ordered the House to intervene in the DOMA case in defense of the law. Boehner said in a statement he was “obviously disappointed in the ruling” and predicted that a “robust national debate over marriage” would continue.
While more developments lie ahead, the legal fight over gay marriage already constitutes one of the most concentrated civil rights sagas in U.S. history.
Just 20 years ago, the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that its state constitution could allow gay marriage, prompting a nationwide backlash and spurring Congress and a majority of states, including Hawaii, to pass laws defining marriage as between only a man and woman.
In 2003, when the top court of Massachusetts established a right to same-sex marriage under its constitution, the action triggered another backlash as states then adopted constitutional amendments against such unions. Five years later, the tide began to reverse, and states slowly began joining Massachusetts in permitting gays to marry.