The two gay marriage rulings from the US Supreme Court this week
have prompted big sighs of relief coming from the 35 states with
bans on same-sex marriage. Nothing in the high court's actions
imperil their bans, say officials from those states, and in fact the
justices affirmed the rights of states to define legal marriage how
they see fit.
That may seem counterintuitive, given that gay rights supporters
heralded the Supreme Court's moves, and that, as a result of its
actions, gay marriages will soon resume in California, despite that
state's voter-approved ban known as Proposition 8.
States with gay marriage bans can feel confident that those laws
are not in legal jeopardy because the justices did not rule on the
merits of same-sex marriage itself, only on the issue of federal
benefits for those whom states deem to be married, says John Dinan,
a political scientist and state constitutional expert at Wake Forest
University in Winston-Salem, N.C. In the case involving the federal
Defense of Marriage Act, the majority opinion, written by Justice
Anthony Kennedy, describes the burden of DOMA on same-sex couples,
but it does not venture into territory such as advising states with
bans to change course or make adjustments.
"Legally, we're in the same place today that we were at the
beginning of the week. No real new ground has been broken in that
direction," Professor Dinan says. "Nothing came out of the two
decisions that changed the legal terrain that would make those
Officials from such states asserted likewise.
"The US Supreme Court ruled that states, not the federal
government, retain the constitutional authority to define marriage.
Michigan's constitution stands, and the will of people to define
marriage as between one man and one woman endures in the Great Lakes
State," said Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette in a statement
released soon after the ruling. Michigan's voter-approved
constitutional ban of same-sex marriage was established in 2004.
US Rep. Tim Huelskamp (R) of Kansas told reporters that the "one
good thing out of the decision was the court did not declare that
there was a constitutional right for same-sex marriage" and that
Kansas "will be able to maintain its marriage amendment" prohibiting
In a 5-to-4 decision issued Wednesday, the Supreme Court said
Congress cannot treat same-sex married couples differently than
opposite-sex married couples for purposes of qualifying for some
1,100 federal benefits, thereby overturning the guts of the federal
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). As a result, same-sex couples
residing in one of the 13 states where gay marriage is legal are
soon to be entitled to all the federal benefits that heterosexual
married couples receive.
In a separate ruling issued the same day, the high court
dismissed the appeal from backers of California's Proposition 8,
saying they did not have legal standing. That means a lower federal
court ruling that California's ban is unconstitutional prevails in
Thirty-five states define marriage as between a man and a woman,
according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. In 29,
the gay-marriage ban is enshrined in a state's constitution, adopted
by the state legislature after a popular vote. …