In a surprising decision last week, the Supreme Court overturned the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in a 5-4 decision. Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joined with Ruth Bader Ginsberg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayer and Elena Kagan to overturn DOMA.
DOMA was originally passed by the House of Representatives and the Senate and then signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. The law denied same-sex couples from receiving federal benefits, which are available to heterosexual couples.
In addition, The Supreme Court on Wednesday ruled that the traditional marriage activists who put Proposition 8 on California ballots in 2008 did not have the constitutional authority or legal standing to defend the law in federal courts.
What the Rulings Mean
Gay rights activists and others who challenged the legality of Proposition 8, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, hoped the Supreme Court would rule in favor of same-sex marriage. But it didn't. The court based its decision on legal standing.
Advocates for DOMA hoped for a win for the traditional view of marriage. Again, the court didn't do that. The court based its decision on due process and 14th Amendment equal protection rights.
Despite the celebrations in the streets, neither decision by the U.S. Supreme Court endorsed same-sex marriage.
Now, it will be up to the Obama administration to implement the court's decision on DOMA and decide how and whether to apply a uniform, federal agency-wide marriage definition.
More Americans Endorse Same-Sex Marriages
The celebrations of these rulings by same-sex and heterosexual couples reflect an attitude that is slowly changing in the U.S. An ABC poll taken six months ago indicated that 43% of Americans support gay marriage while only 37% oppose it. This is a significant change from an earlier disapproval rating of 57%. So while the U.S. Supreme Court might not have endorsed same-sex marriage, many Americans do.
Advice for Same-Sex Couples Who Want to Marry
If you are looking forward to finally getting married in California, here are some steps you should take.
- Meet with an attorney to prepare a prenuptial agreement.
- Have your lawyer draw up a will or trust.
- Designate your spouse as one of the executors of your will and assign power of attorney to your spouse in case you are unable to make medical decisions for yourself.
- Place the name of your spouse as a beneficiary in your life insurance policies
Do you have questions about custody, guardianships, children's issues, or spousal support? If so, call me or schedule a consultation with the Law Offices of James V. Sansone at 707-623-1875 or contact me by email. You can find additional information on family law, children's issues, spousal support, domestic violence as well as a list of resources you'll find helpful on our website.