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The Same-Sex Marriage Cases: What Happened and What they Mean

The Supreme Court in Washington

Earlier this morning the Supreme Court of the United States struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act and held that the supporters of Proposition 8 in California did not have standing to defend Prop 8 in federal court. 

You can read the DOMA ruling here.

You can read the Prop 8 ruling here.

Essentially, the DOMA ruling means that the federal government must provide the same benefits to same-sex spouses as opposite-sex spouses, if the same-sex marriage has been lawfully performed.  In other words, if a gay couple is married in a state that recognizes gay marriage, then the federal government will recognize that marriage on the same basis as a traditional marriage.

The Prop 8 ruling is far more complex, but the bottom line is that it likely clears the way for same-sex marriage in California.  It does not, however, have any real implications for marriages outside of California.

Critically, neither ruling establishes a federal, constitutional right to same-sex marriage.  Those states that have marriage amendments defining marriage as the union of a man and woman are untouched by these rulings.  Those states that recognize same-sex marriage are similarly untouched.

The bottom line?  The definition of marriage is reaffirmed as a matter primarily of state law, not federal law.  The issue goes back to the states, and for the foreseeable future, states will continue to define the parameters of lawful marriage.

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