Guest Column: 12 things to know about DOMA and Prop 8
by Jimmy Akin
National Catholic Register
Here are 12 things you need to know about the homosexual “marriage” decisions just issued by the U.S. Supreme Court.
The U.S. Supreme Court has just dealt a pair of blows to the fight to defend the reality of marriage as being between a man and a woman. There will be time for analysis later.
For now, let’s try to understand the basic facts of what just happened.
Here are 12 things you need to know.
1. What just happened at the U.S. Supreme Court?
The court issued two decisions regarding homosexual “marriage.”
The first involved the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The second involved California’s Prop 8.
2. What is DOMA?
The Defense of Marriage Act is a law passed in 1996 by the U.S. Congress and signed into law by Bill Clinton.
Among other things, DOMA prevented the federal government from awarding benefits to homosexual couples who were married under state law.
This was at issue in the first case that the Court ruled on.
3. What was the DOMA case about?
A woman who was legally married to another woman in New York state was required to pay a large sum in federal estate taxes because the marriage was not recognized under federal law because of DOMA.
4. What did the Court hold in this case?
The Court held that part of DOMA (not all of it) was unconstitutional and in violation of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment (specifically, the equal protection provision incorporated into it by the Fourteenth Amendment). As a result, if a homosexual couple is legally married in terms of state law, the federal government will now have to give them the same benefits as a heterosexual couple.
5. Does this mean that homosexual marriage is now legal everywhere?
No. In a dissenting opinion that he filed on this case, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote:
The Court does not have before it, and the logic of its opinion does not decide, the distinct question whether the States, in the exercise of their “historic and essential authority to define the marital relation,” ante, at 18, may continue to utilize the traditional definition of marriage.
6. How did the justices vote on this case?
Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion of the court and was joined by Justices Ginsburgh, Breyer, Sotomayer, and Kagan.
Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito filed a combination of dissenting opinions.
7. What is Prop 8?
Proposition 8 is a ballot initiative that amended the California state constitution to define marriage as being between a man and a woman.
It was passed by the voters of California in 2008.
8. What was the Prop 8 case about?
After Prop 8 was passed, advocates of homosexual marriage filed suit against it and succeeded in getting it overturned.
The California state officials who ordinarily would defend such a law refused to do so, and a group of private individuals attempted to do so.
9. What did the Court hold in this case?
The U.S. Supreme Court held that the private individuals attempting to defend Prop 8 did not have the standing needed to defend it before them. It consequently vacated and remanded the lower court’s decision. Specifically, the opinion of the court holds:
Because petitioners have not satisfied their burden to demonstrate standing to appeal the judgment of the District Court, the Ninth Circuit was without jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The judgment of the Ninth Circuit is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
10. What does this mean?
It means that, unless another way can be found to defend Prop 8, it is effectively dead and homosexual marriage will be legal in California.
11. How did the justices vote on this case?
The opinion of the court was written by Chief Justice John Roberts, who was joined by Justices Scalia, Ginsburgh, Breyer, and Kagan.
Justice Kennedy filed a dissenting opinion, and he was joined in it by Justices Thomas, Alito, and Sotomayer.
12. What did the dissenters say in this case?
The dissenting opinion filed in this case stated, in part:
In the end, what the Court fails to grasp or accept is the basic premise of the initiative process. And it is this. The essence of democracy is that the right to make law rests in the people and flows to the government, not the other way around. Freedom resides first in the people without need of a grant from government. The California initiative process embodies these principles and has done so for over a century.
In California and the 26 other States that permit initiatives and popular referendums, the people have exercised their own inherent sovereign right to govern themselves. The Court today frustrates that choice by nullifying, for failure to comply with the Restatement of Agency, a State Supreme Court decision holding that state law authorizes an enacted initiative’s proponents to defend the law if and when the State’s usual legal advocates decline to do so. The Court’s opinion fails to abide by precedent and misapplies basic principles of justifiability.