PD Editorial: Correcting an injustice for gay couples

We counted ourselves among those who considered it a matter of when not if the day would come that the U.S. Supreme Court would put an end to the federal government's discrimination in the treatment of same-sex couples.

Still, it seemed some days that when would never come.

Let history show it arrived on Wednesday, June 26, 2013.

In a divided but no-nonsense conclusion, the court made two distinct and historic rulings in defense of gay rights. In the more clear-cut of the two, the court ruled 5-4 that the Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.

The court struck down a key section of the legislation that defined marriage, for the purposes of receiving federal benefits, as a union between a man and a woman. The court found that because the Defense of Marriage Act kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits it violated equal protection rights established in the Constitution.

Writing for the majority, Anthony M. Kennedy said that the federal statute was invalid, "for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the state, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity."

Speaking for a majority that included the four liberal-leaning justices, Kennedy said the statute violated Fifth Amendment protections by treating those in same-sex relationships "as living in marriages less respected than others."

Meanwhile, the court, also on a 5-4 vote, paved the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California where they had been allowed for several months in 2008 before being cut off by the passage of Proposition 8.

But this victory was less transparent, as the justices failed to rule on the constitutionality of the voter-approved gay-marriage ban itself. Instead, the majority found that due to procedural problems, including that proponents of Proposition 8 lacked legal standing to file an appeal, the court didn't have the authority to take a position.

Still, the net effect was another victory for gay couples as it opened the door for same-sex marriages to resume in California. That could occur as soon as 24 days from now, court officials say, but much will depend on the success of Proposition 8 opponents in seeking another appeal and another strategy.

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