The U.S. Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional. The high court also punted on California's Prop 8, finding that the anti-marriage equality activists who put it on the ballot did not have the authority to do so. Therefore, the lower court's decision kicks in, which ruled that the state's same-sex marriage legislation is legal. We take a look at the decisions and reaction as well as what is next in the battle for marriage equality in 37 states.
This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court found the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional. The high court also punted on California's Prop 8, finding that the anti-marriage equality activists who put it on the ballot did not have the authority to do so. Therefore, the lower court's decision kicks in, which ruled that the state's same-sex marriage legislation is legal. The decision in the Prop 8 case does not set a legal precedent for same-sex marriage in either direction, it simply boomeranged the final decision back to a lower court.
President Barack Obama supported the high court's decisions on the cases, releasing the following statement in response:
This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. 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.
This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better.
So we welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.
On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital. How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.
The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts: when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.
Upon news breaking of the SCOTUS decisions on Prop 8 and DOMA, the president tweeted his support of the rulings:
The president also placed calls to the plaintiffs in both cases, congratulating them on their victories.
You can see the President's call to the Prop 8 plaintiffs, which was caught live on MSNBC, here.
President Bill Clinton, who signed the bill into law back in 1996, along with former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton also lauded the SCOTUS decision on the DOMA case. The two released a joint statement on the opinion this afternoon.
"By overturning the Defense of Marriage Act, the Court recognized that discrimination towards any group holds us all back in our efforts to form a more perfect union," the statement reads. "We are also encouraged that marriage equality may soon return to California. We applaud the hard work of the advocates who have fought so relentlessly for this day, and congratulate Edie Windsor on her historic victory."
Last month, the Illinois General Assembly fumbled on establishing marriage equality in the state when the House failed to vote on a same-sex marriage bill that had passed out of the Senate on Valentine's Day. The bill's sponsor, State Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago) regrettably said he simply did not have enough votes to get the bill passed, despite the support of latecomers like State Rep. LaShawn Ford, who voiced his support just days before the end of the spring legislative session.
While Harris is pleased with the Supreme Court's decisions today on marriage equality, he says Illinois still has to do some work in order to join the 13 states and the District of Columbia in passing marriage equality legislation.
“DOMA is struck down for depriving all families of equal respect, dignity and protection," Harris said today. "The Supreme Court said that it is the state’s decision to give all persons a dignity and status of immense import. I hope my colleagues in the House will join us in acting soon to affirm that dignity, respect and protection for all Illinois families.”
"Illinois must step up and join our brother and sister states," Harris told the State Journal-Register. "It's now more important than ever."
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn expressed his pleasure with the SCOTUS decision, indicating that the ruling could bring some much-needed energy to the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in Illinois.
Today the Supreme Court took a historic step by providing equal access to more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits for same-sex couples.
Members of the Illinois House now have more than 1,100 new reasons to make marriage equality the law in Illinois.
This is a monumental day for freedom in the history of our nation. The opportunity to guarantee equal rights and benefits to all citizens - under both state and federal law - is one we must seize here in the Land of Lincoln without delay.
Now is the time for all to put differences aside, band together and redouble our efforts to make it happen.
I will continue working with members of the Illinois House and all of our tireless community advocates to bring marriage equality to Illinois as soon as possible.
State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) also spoke out in support of the SCOTUS DOMA decision and pressed the Illinois House to get to work on passing marriage equality legislation of its own:
Forty-six years after Loving v. Virginia, which affirmed the marriage rights of interracial couples, the U.S. Supreme Court again struck a blow against laws that discriminate against people based on whom they choose to marry. Today, a majority of justices held that the Defense of Marriage Act — which prohibited same-sex couples, even those who are married in the eyes of the states in which they reside, from accessing federal marriage benefits — is contrary to the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
I wholeheartedly applaud this decision. But it does not absolve Illinois lawmakers of responsibility; our work has just begun.
Because same-sex couples in this state may enter into civil unions but not marriages, the federal rights and responsibilities of marriage do not apply to them – even after today’s ruling. It is now more critical than ever that the House pass the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, as the Senate did in February, so the commitments same-sex couples make to each other are recognized as marriages under both state and federal law.
Yesterday, some members of the Illinois Congressional Delegation were part of the latest installment of the NOH8 on the Hill campaign, with U.S. Reps. Robin Kelly (D-IL,2), Luis Gutierrez (D-IL,4), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL,8), and Brad Schneider (D-IL,10) taking part in the mission "to promote marriage, gender and human equality through education, advocacy, social media, and visual protest."
"The LGBT community is entitled to the same rights afforded to everyone else and our nation will not reach its full potential until all Americans are given the opportunity to marry the individual they love," Duckworth said in relation to her partcipation in the NOH8 campaign. "It is crucial that we commit ourselves to providing equal access and opportunity to all Americans whether it be in marriage, employment, or service in the military."
Today, several of members of the delegation quickly voiced their support of the SCOTUS decision on DOMA:
U.S. Rep. Mike Quigley (D-IL, 5):
Today’s ruling is a tremendous victory for our LGBT community and for everyone who believes in America’s founding principles of liberty and justice for all. By ruling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, legally married gay and lesbian couples and their families will finally have equal access to the rights and benefits guaranteed to them by federal law.
With more to celebrate than ever this Pride Month, we must not forget that the fight for equality is far from over. We must strengthen our resolve and continue our fight for justice, until the day when all loving and committed couples have the fundamental right to marry the person they hold closest in their hearts.
U.S. Rep. Duckworth (D-IL, 8):
Today’s ruling is another important step to make sure that all Americans are treated equally. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was inherently unfair and this is a major step forward for our country. The LGBT community is entitled to the same rights afforded to everyone else and our nation will not reach its full potential until all Americans are given the opportunity to marry the individual they love.
The Supreme Court and Congress need to grant all Americans - gay or straight - the ability to protect their partner. While I was recovering at Walter Reed after being shot down in Iraq, my husband Bryan was at my bedside every day. Not only was he offering love and support during such a difficult time, but he was also making critical decisions for me that improved my quality of life. Often, those decisions were contrary to what other family members would have decided, but as my life partner, my husband knew me better and made the correct choices for me when I could not. I support the freedom to marry because everyone deserves the same level of access, support and love.
With this ruling, it is crucial that we recommit ourselves to providing equal access and opportunity to all Americans, whether it be in marriage, employment, or service in the military. I look forward to getting back to work in Congress and standing up for every American’s ability to achieve the American Dream.
U.S. Rep. Schneider (D-IL, 10):
"I am proud that the Supreme Court called DOMA what it is—unconstitutional. All loving couples should have the opportunity to make a life-long, loving commitment called ‘marriage’. This is a landmark day for equality, and I'm personally committed to continuing to fight for equality in Washington and at home, and I hope I will soon be able to proudly cast my vote in support of full marriage equality."
U.S. Rep. Bill Foster (D-IL,11) voiced his pleasure with the ruling and also called on the Illinois General Assembly to pass its own marriage equality bill:
Forty-six years after Loving v. Virginia, which affirmed the marriage rights of interracial couples, the U.S. Supreme Court again struck a blow against laws that discriminate against people based on whom they choose to marry. Today, a majority of justices held that the Defense of Marriage Act — which prohibited same-sex couples, even those who are married in the eyes of the states in which they reside, from accessing federal marriage benefits — is contrary to the Constitution’s equal protection clause. I wholeheartedly applaud this decision. But it does not absolve Illinois lawmakers of responsibility; our work has just begun. Because same-sex couples in this state may enter into civil unions but not marriages, the federal rights and responsibilities of marriage do not apply to them – even after today’s ruling. It is now more critical than ever that the House pass the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act, as the Senate did in February, so the commitments same-sex couples make to each other are recognized as marriages under both state and federal law.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel also spoke out after the SCOTUS decisions were announced, saying the ruling should revive efforts to pass marriage equality in Illinois.
“The Supreme Court’s decision today is a major step forward in the ongoing fight to ensure that government won’t discriminate and will treat all love equally," the Chicago mayor said in a statement. "This decision should strengthen our commitment in the State of Illinois toward ensuring that the life-long commitments of all Americans are honored and respected by the law. The state should not be standing in the way of two people loving each other. America has faced obstacles on our journey to equality before and we have always overcome them. The struggle for marriage equality will be no different.”
The battle ahead
Despite all of the elation surrounding the SCOTUS decisions among marriage equality supporters, there is still a battle ahead in the 37 states, including Illinois, that do not have same-sex marriage legislation on the books. The Supreme Court's decision does not legalize same-sex marriage in states in which it is not legalized. The decision simply strikes down the federal law that fails to recognize same-sex marriage in places in which it is legal. The ruling still kicks the decision to legalize same-sex marriage back to the states, making it a battle that will still have to be fought in 37 Statehouses across the nation. And marriage equality opponents are already gearing up for a fight.
"The people of the state of Illinois, along with 38 other states, still have the right to determine if gay marriage should become law in their respective states," the African American Clergy Coalition said in a statement.
The Catholic Coalition of Illinois, which "represent[s] the Catholic Church at the Illinois Capitol" also spoke out against the SCOTUS decision today:
The Catholic Conference of Illinois regrets the U.S. Supreme Court’s wrong decision to invalidate the Defense of Marriage Act. Marriage comes to us through God’s nature as the union of one man and one woman.
The ruling, however, does not mandate a redefinition of marriage across the nation, so the citizens of Illinois can still preserve marriage by telling their state lawmakers to honor the natural truth of marriage as the union of one man and one woman.
The Catholic Church in Illinois and across the world will continue to promote this truth.
The Catholic Conference of Illinois will work to preserve marriage and stress the disturbing lack of religious freedom protections included in Illinois’ legislative efforts to redefine marriage. The bill before the Illinois legislature lacks even the minimal protections found in other state laws authorizing the redefinition of marriage, including New York, Minnesota, Rhode Island and Connecticut.
Saying that the decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 "advance the homosexual political agenda", the Carol Stream-based Illinois Family Institute also released a statement blasting the high court's rulings:
In spite of the Supreme Court’s decision today, marriage remains the union of husband and wife – a timeless, universal institution that connects children to their mother and father. The U.S. Supreme Court, our federal and state governments should work to preserve the marriage laws in Proposition 8 and DOMA — not undermine them. It’s abundantly clear they don’t understand the unique purpose and nature of marriage. It is the ONLY relationship of interest to the government because it has the potential to produce children and is the best environment in which to raise the next generation of healthy and productive members of society.
Moreover, the Court trampled on ‘we the people’ and ignored the constitutional authority of the American people to determine marriage policy. We will continue to stand up for marriage as the union of one man and one woman because of the reality that children need and deserve both a mom and a dad. Neither are expendable.
Lastly, these rulings advance the homosexual political agenda, and will lead to more anti-religious bigotry and persecution. While conservative people of faith and moral conscience should be able to freely exercise their religious beliefs, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, these newly manufactured rights are being used to quash individual liberties.
Clearly, marriage equality supporters in Illinois have a fight ahead of them, despite the DOMA and Prop 8 decisions by the Supreme Court. It remains to be seen whether a marriage equality bill in the state legislature will garner enough votes to pass both chambers and be signed into law before the next gubernatorial election. Depending upon who is governor after the 2014 elections, legalizing same-sex marriage could become more difficult in Illinois as the Republican gubernatorial primary candidates do not appear to be poised to support a marriage equality bill, which Quinn has repeatedly said he would sign into law if it crossed his desk.
If the state legislature fails to act, there is another way in which same-sex marriage could possibly be legalized in Illinois. As we have previously reported, the ACLU and Lambda Legal filed a lawsuit in May 2012 in support of these seeking marriage equality in Illinois. Specifically, the suit, which was filed on behalf of 25 couples who were denied marriage licenses, argues that the Cook County Clerk's Office violates the U.S. Constitution's equal protection clause by not recognizing same sex marriage.
Those involved in the suit say the DOMA decision will definitely help their case.
"It's doomsday for DOMA," Camilla Taylor of Lambda Legal told the State Journal-Register. "It's extremely helpful. There's some wonderful language about how important it is to marry. Their dignity, their liberty, their equality. That will be extremely helpful in court."
In terms of national marriage equality efforts, the Daily Kos launched a campaign this afternoon, calling on Congress "to finish what the Supreme Court started" and repeal the part of DOMA that allows states to not recognize same-sex marriages from other states, which the the SCOTUS decision does not affect. The petition also demands that Congress pass the Respect for Marriage Act, H.R. 1116, S. 598, which would fully repeal DOMA.
Organizing for Action, which was born out of President Barack Obama's re-election campaign, has also set up a petition, pledging to "go state by state if we have to to achieve full equality for LGBT Americans." The group, which stepped in during the latest battle to pass a marriage equality bill in Illinois, also released a video timeline of the nation's fight for gay rights and equality. Click through for the video.
Check back with Progress Illinois for our report on a rally set for this evening in Chicago's Boystown neighborhood in reaction to the SCOTUS decisions.
Images: AP/Charles Dharapak; Office of U.S. Rep. Tammy Duckworth