The United States Supreme Court decision on marriage equality was probably the best we could expect from a court that has a conservative (i.e. Republican) bias. There are 9 justices (judges) on the court. They voted on two issues: (1) Whether private groups have “standing” to contest decisions of state legislatures; the court said they do not, meaning, if you want to get a state legislature’s decision overturned you have to go through the legislative process. The case in point was California, where the legislature had decided in favor of marriage equality and gay marriages were taking place; conservative groups got a public referendum passed (“Proposition 8”) and then took the state to court and the courts ruled the marriages had to stop until the case was settled. The marriages can proceed again. (2) The second decision was whether federal Defense of Marriage Acts (DOMA) apply to citizens of states that have passed laws in support of marriage equality; the court voted 5 to 4 that they are not legal, meaning that wherever states have legalized marriage equality, all state and federal rights and benefits apply to gay couples just as much as to heterosexual couples.
What the court did not decide included such things as whether DOMA are legal in states where legislatures have decided against marriage equality. A majority of the 50 states have made decisions against marriage equality. Those stand. The court could have overturned them but did not make its ruling based on marriage equality itself. In short, marriage equality will have to be decided state by state. This outcome had been expected. What the court could not decide is WHEN the federal government will implement its equality practices for citizens of states where they are legally married. President Obama has already ordered federal agencies to be quick about this, but we’re talking federal bureaucracies here – it will take time.
Rev. Dr. Kenneth Dobson posts his weekly reflections on this blog.