Image of Fred Martinez, the focus of the 2001 documentary film Two Spirits

Supreme Court Removes Hurdles to Same-Sex Marriages

ICTMN Staff
6/26/13

The Supreme Court this morning released two rulings seen as major steps for those fighting to legalize same-sex marriage.

The Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996 (DOMA) unconstitutional following its 5-4 vote; and found it did not have standing to rule on California’s Proposition 8 in another 5-4 vote.

President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law, essentially blocking federal benefits to same-sex couples. The law defined marriage as, “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife,” and a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife,” according to NPR.com. Prior to this morning’s Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor, DOMA had been struck down by eight lower courts.

According to cnn.com the case argued whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can legally marry.Plaintiff Edith Windsor, of New York, waves to supporters in front of the Supreme Court in Washington on June 26, after the court heard arguments on her Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) case. (Carolyn Kaster/AP)

"Although Congress has great authority to design laws to fit its own conception of sound national policy, it cannot deny the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment," Justice Anthony Kennedy said in delivering the opinion of the court.

Justice Antonin Scalia, who voted in favor of DOMA wrote, "Some will rejoice in today’s decision, and some will despair at it; that is the nature of a controversy that matters so much to so many. But the Court has cheated both sides, robbing the winners of an honest victory, and the losers of the peace that comes from a fair defeat."

"Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways," Kennedy wrote in the opinion via The Blog of Legal Times. "By its great reach, DOMA touches many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound. It prevents same-sex married couples from obtaining government healthcare benefits they would otherwise receive."

American Indian communities, similar to multiple states, have been involved in the same-sex marriage argument for a while. In a January 2012 interview with Indian Country Today Media Network, Heather Purser, of the Suquamish tribe successfully pursued the passing of same-sex marriage on her reservation, talked about the burdens of not only growing up Indian but a lesbian as well. (Related story: Diver Heather Purser Pioneers Same-Sex Marriage for Suquamish)

“Indian people, especially in my community, are way more understanding [about discrimination] because they’ve been through it. The elders know what it’s like to go to school and have their hair cut off and be called a filthy, sick person just because of who they are.”

In April, ICTMN reported on the Little Traverse Bay Bands council vote of 5-4 to recognize same-sex marriages on the reservation. Following the vote, the first couple, Tim LaCroix and his husband Barfield recognized the ceremony as official due to the tribe’s sovereignty status. (Related story: Same-Sex Marriage Is A-OK With Little Traverse Bay Bands)

Following the ceremony Barfield said, “That [the tribe] created this opportunity is incredibly important in so many ways—even in today’s day and age when there are gay people on TV, in Congress and LGBT people all over the place—it is still incredibly important for communities to stand up and act on equality. Every time a signal like this gets sent, the door is pushed open a little wider and there is more room for people to live their lives.”

In a separate case this morning, the Supreme Court let stand a lower court ruling striking down California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriages.

NPR.com stated that the 5-4 ruling in the Prop 8 hearing declined to rule on the broader issue of the legality of gay marriage and that it did not have standing to rule on Prop 8.

The Prop 8 ruling has more than likely cleared the way for same-sex marriage in California according to the Blog of Legal Times.

The DOMA ruling now means that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits as married opposite sex couples.

Joining Kennedy in favor of the ruling were Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Dissenting Judges with Scalia, were Clarence Thomas, John Roberts and Samuel Alito.

“When you think about the institution of marriage itself having such a difficult time, I can’t help but think that all these other people who are trying to buy into that institution can’t help but strengthen it. We are not trying to break marriage; we are a part of marriage now. We want marriage to be a good thing for everybody,” Barfield said.

Related story: Momentum Mounts to Again Embrace Two-Spirits

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