The U.S. Supreme Court voided the federal Defense of Marriage Act this morning, but in a way that leaves Arizona free to keep its constitutional ban on same-sex marriages.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, said the states have the sovereign right to determine who can wed. He said the federal law frustrates that by requiring couples legally married in their own states to live as unmarried singles for purposes of various federal laws.
``DOMA contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their states, but not other couples, of both rights and responsibilities,'' Kennedy wrote.
``By creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same state, DOMA forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the state has found it proper to acknowledge and protect,'' he continued. ``By this dynamic DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state-sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition.''
Kennedy said that differentiation ``demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects and whose relationships the state has sought to dignify.''
``And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples,'' he said.
The ruling has real practical effects for the affected couples.
It will allow same-sex couples to obtain government health care benefits that are available to heterosexual couples. It also means that they get things like special protections of the federal Bankruptcy Code for domestic-support obligations.
And it even eliminates the prohibition against them from being buried together in veterans' cemeteries.
It also removes the hassle of having to file two individual returns for federal tax purposes and then being able to file state returns jointly as a couple.
Nothing in the ruling appears to upset Arizona's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriages. But in leaving the issue to the states, it could provide impetus for a newly launched initiative to ask voters to repeal that ban in 2014.
In a separate opinion this morning, the justices threw out a bid by opponents of same-sex marriage to defend California's Proposition 8.That is the voter-approved measure which sought to overturn a decision by the California Supreme Court declaring that gays have a constitutional right to wed in that state.
Foes of Prop 8 filed suit to have it declared unconstitutional. When the state itself refused to defend the law, a separate group of private citizens intervened.
A federal judge eventually declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional. And today the high court threw out the whole case, ruling that the private citizens lacked the right to even bring the case in federal court.