US Supreme CourtThe Supreme Court issued two highly anticipated decisions today in favor of same-sex couples who wish to marry. The cases at issue were United States v. Windsor, involving a constitutional challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and Hollingsworth v. Perry, a case seeking review of a district court decision to invalidate a California constitutional amendment that sought to restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples.

Landmark Supreme Court Decisions

The rulings are being hailed as landmark decisions by supporters of same-sex marriage and mark the most significant recognition of LGBT rights by the high court to date. In Windsor, the Court ruled that DOMA’s definition of marriage as the union of “one man and one woman” violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. Practically, the decision clears the way for same-sex couples who are married to be eligible for the same federal benefits as opposite-sex couples. The decision side-stepped the issue of whether there was constitutional right to gay marriage, and also declined to recognize people with a specific sexual preference as members of a “protected class” for the purposes of equal protection law.

The decision regarding California’s Proposition 8 declined to reach the merits of the case, but rather ruled that the plaintiffs lacked legal standing to challenge the district court decision. In that case, the district court below had ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional because it violated the 14th Amendment’s guarantees of due process and equal protection.

Marriage Debate Is not Dead

Both sides of the debate are vowing to continue the fight. In a press release, the Human Rights Campaign stated that “while a joyous milestone, these victories nonetheless throw into sharp relief the uneven progress for LGBT people around the country—a landscape where states like California are rapidly advancing toward equality, but progress in many other places remains stagnant.” On the other hand, House Speaker Jon Boehner (R-Ohio) issued a statement saying, “A robust national debate over marriage will continue in the public square, and it is my hope that states will define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.”

These decisions may signal a new willingness for the Court to extend equal protection law to encompass members of the LGBT community. Several studies have indicated a general shift in public attitudes towards same-sex couples, and same sex marriage is currently recognized in twelve states and the District of Columbia. It remains to be seen whether today’s decisions are only the first in many extending legal protections to same-sex couples.

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