In two landmark decisions today, the U.S. Supreme Court sent a powerful reminder that individual "moral and sexual choices" are protected by the U.S. Constitution, and that laws and policies designed to exclude people based on their characteristics and identity are intolerable forms of discrimination, marginalization, and institutionalization of second-class citizen status.
In Windsor v. United States, the Court held that a key provision of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), excluding same-sex married couples from federal recognition, benefits, and protections, is unconstitutional because it violates the Fifth Amendment's due process and equal protection principles. The Court acknowledged that targeting and denying people rights, based on their identity or characteristics, "impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma." As the Court recognized, "differentiation demeans" the targeted people, "humiliates" their children and families, and has a profound negative impact that is felt "in their community and in their daily lives." This outcome opens the door for same-sex couples married under the laws of 13 jurisdictions across the U.S. to receive federal recognition, benefits and protections. As the Court noted, marriage equality is "without a doubt a proper exercise" of state authority within our federal system, and the federal government must defer to "state-law policy decisions with respect to domestic relations."
In Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court ruled that the sponsors of Prop 8, the California constitutional amendment that stripped same-sex couples of the freedom to marry, had no legal right (standing) to defend Prop 8 because allowing same-sex couples to marry caused them no harm. This historic ruling restores the freedom to marry to same-sex couples in California.