Supreme Court same-sex marriage decisions: DOMA invalidated, Prop 8 case dismissed, SF reacts [UPDATED]

Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon, same-sex marriage pioneers, photographed in 2008 for SFBG

Watch this space throughout the day for breaking news on the decision and reactions. Tonight there will be a celebration of the Court's decisions at Castro and Market Streets at 6:30pm. (Join  the Guardian beforehand, 6-9 at the Pilsner in the castro, at its annual pre-Pride event.) 


The Supreme Court released its ruling this morning that the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriage, "is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment."

"DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty," according to the majority opinion. "DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state sanctioned marriages and make them unequal." The Court voted 5-4, with Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, as the decisive vote along the usual liberal/conservative lines. You can read the full opinion here

This means that same-sex marriages performed in states that have legalized such marriages will be recognized by federal law.  


As for Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Prop 8 case, it was dismissed on standing, due to the fact that the State of California refused to defend the case that would uphold Prop 8 (which denied same-sex marriage).That meant private citizens were left to defend a state statute, which was unprecedented, and the Court refused to rule on those grounds.

"We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here," the majority Court statement (which broke along the typical 5-4 line) said. That means there is no specific decision from the Court regarding Prop 8, and the previous ruling, by Judge Vaughan Walker and upheld by the Ninth Circuit Court, that invalidated Prop 8 as discriminatory, stands.

This may mean that same-sex marriages in California can resume as early as July.

You can read the full Prop 8 ruling here.

Scene this morrning at SF City Hall, with Mayor Ed Lee and Lt. Gov. Newsom. Photo by Dan Bernal.


Steven T. Jones reports from SF City Hall:

City Hall was totally packed at 7am when the US Supreme Court convened -- tons of journalists, lots of couples, many signs in the crowd. Two screens were set up, one with a live blog from court chamber, the other with the CNN live feed. Huge cheers erupted at 7:11 when the decision was announced striking down DOMA and forcing the federal government to recognize the rights of same-sex married couples.  Then at 7:38, when the Prop 8 statement came down, the room went nuts. 

A moment later, an array of current and former city officials appeared at the top of the City Hall main staircase. Mayor Ed Lee and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom escorted a fragile Phyllis Lyon down the stairs -- she, along with the late Del Martin, were the first same-sex couple to get legally married in California in 2004 -- flanked by the rest of the city family, all with big smiles.

"Welcome to the people's house of San Francisco," Mayor Lee said, thanking the crowd "for sharing in this historic moment."

"It feels good to have love triumph over ignorance," he said.

At 7:44, City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Chief Deputy City Attorney Terry Stewart, who had been on the City Hall steps addressed reporters' question on the legal details of the ruling, joined the crew to sustained applause as Lee recognized them. He then introduced Newsom, who in 2004 as San Francisco mayor allowed same-sex marriages to be performed, as "one person who used the power of this office to make history and show his love for the city."

"San Francisco is not a city of dreamers, but a city of doers," Newsom said. "Here we don't just tolerate diversity, we celebrate our diversity." He thanked Herrera and everyone who contributed to this moment. "It's people with a true commitment to equality that brought us here."

Newsom introduced Kate Kendall with the National Center for Lesbian Rights, who has led the coalition of groups that have push for marriage equality. She looked around the crowd and said, "Fuck you, Prop 8!"

The crowd roared, and she said that she had scanned the room for children, and promised to "put a dollar in the swear jar" if necessary. But she said that, "We have lived for too many years under that stigmatizing piece of crap."

Then Herrera took the podium, turned to Newsom, and said, "Now you can say, 'Whether you like it or not!'" -- a joking reference to Newsom's same-sex marriage rallying cry, which some blamed for boosting the anti-same-sex marriage cause.

"We wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for Gavin Newsom's leadership," Herrera continued. ""I remember in 2004 when people were saying it was too fast, too soon, too much."

But today, that long effort has been vindicated, Now, he said, "It's about changing the hearts and minds of people and educating them." He also pledged to continue the fight that began here in City Hall more than nine years ago: "We will not rest until we have marriage equality throughout this country."

Gavin Newsom being interviewed inside City Hall. Photo by Steve Jones

Finally Stewart, who has argued cases related to San Francisco's stand before both the US and California Supreme Courts, praised both the Prop. 8 and DOMA rulings and the precedents they set. "In the DOMA case decision, the Supreme Court expressed a stong equal protection philosophy...that will help legalize same sex marriage in other states."

Three members of the Board of Supervisors were also invited by Kendell to address the huge City Hall crowd: Board President David Chiu and Sups. David Campos and Scott Wiener, the only two current supervisors who are gay.

Chiu noted that the bust of slain Sup. Harvey Milk is prominently positioned outside the Board Chambers, a reminder of the long struggle for gay rights that San Franciscans have led. “That work lives on today,” he said.

He added the hope that the work done here will ripple out of across the country because, he said, “As goes San Francisco, so goes California, so goes the rest of the country.”

Campos, an attorney who has long been in a committed relationship, said, “It’s a very emotional moment for those of us who are part of the LGBT community.” He said this Supreme Court ruling is the first time it has really acknowledged “that we are people and we have dignity,” and that the rulings sends a clear message to Congress that legislation like DOMA is unconstitionally discriminatory.

Wiener praised the resilience of the LGBT community, from the early days of enduring the AIDS crisis and fighting for federal support through the current campaign for marriage equality. And he cheered the fact that, “Those marriages that we see under the rotunda [in City Hall] will get a little more diverse.”

11:30 AM UPDATE: Style and substance

While Newsom strutted around like a proud peacock in front of City Hall -- clearly the leading man in this epic story with the happy ending, much in demand by the television crews -- Herrera and Stewart briefed various reporters on the details of the case that they had just won.

Gavin Newsom outside City Hall. Photo by Steve Jones.

“I wanted a merits ruling, but a standing ruling is a victory too,” Herrera told us, making the distinction between the court ruling that banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional on the grounds of equal protection under the law -- which it did not do -- and the 5-4 ruling it did issue: that those who appealed the Ninth Circuit Court ruling invalidating Prop. 8 lack proper legal standing to do so.

The standing ruling leaves same-sex marriage opponents more wiggle room to argue that the ruling might only apply to the couples named in the suit, or in just the counties that took part, which also included Alameda and Los Angeles, positions they were already signaling in press statements.

But Herrera said that he would vigorously contest that kind of challenge, which he considers to be without merit, telling us, “The injunction is not limited in its scope.”

UPDATE: SFPD isn't worried

Police Chief Greg Suhr, who attended the City Hall event, said the timing on the ruling during Pride Week couldn’t be better. “It’s nice that it all lined up for us,” he told us. “This town is going to rock ‘til the wheels come off.”

Asked whether he has any heightened security concerns about the Pride Parade in the wake of a ruling that is controversial to some, Suhr said that he’s not worried. He said SFPD is now fully staffed and all available personnel working this weekend, although he will try allow many of his gay and lesbian officers to join the celebration if they want.

“We’re going to police what’s likely to be the biggest party this city has ever seen,” Suhr said, adding that his policing philosophy is, “We plan for the worst and hope for the best.”



Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 8:33 am

The founders didn't establish a democracy; they established a republic.

Posted by Hortencia on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 9:52 am

coronated Bush over Gore? Or made the Citizens United ruling?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 10:33 am

I believed those opinions were gravely unjust, but they were made by according the mechanism prescribed in the Constitution as explained in Marbury v. Madison.

In the former case, I think they should have led to impeachment of the Court majoirty (five people, not one old, white man, by the way) because it amounted to a coup d'etat.. However, with a Republican majority in the House, that never was going to happen.

Posted by Hortencia on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 10:41 am

decision was a 5-4 decision. Usually it is Kennedy who is the swing vote, hence the "76 year old straight white man" remark.

If the decision had gone the other way, you can be assured that the usual whiney liberals here would have said exactly that.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 11:04 am

...we have whiny conservatives talking about activist judges and democracy when just yesterday they exulted at the Court overruling Congress on the Voting Rights Act. Talk about "so much for democracy."

Posted by Hortencia on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 12:53 pm

an unreasonable thing to do.

Anyway, the only places that will implement voter ID are places where the GOP win anyway, so why do you think it will make any difference?

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 1:32 pm

Funny nowadays how the folks usually accused of voter fraud just happen to lack white skin. If I didn't know any better, I'd say these anti-"voter fraud" efforts are all about making voting as difficult as possible for non-white folks.

Posted by Peter on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 3:46 pm

Every citizen who is not a felon gets a vote here, regardless of race.

The point, rather, is to prevent some folks getting more than one vote, again regardless of race.

The ACORN debacle does show how race can be introduced by some unscrupulous sous, however.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 4:22 pm

The point is that one day you praised the Court for overruling Congress on a section of a duly passed law, and the next day you excoriated them for it.

Posted by Hortencia on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 9:17 am

so naturally the opinion will vary as well.

I suspect that there are few people who always agree with every SCOTUS decision.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 9:29 am

But this thread began with a commenter bemoaning that this turned on the opinion of one judge, implying that democracy was not served. It seems like many people like the practice of judicial review only when it serves their political goals. But if the Court rules in a way they don't like they scream "judicial activism!"

Posted by Hortencia on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 9:48 am

But yes, when that resulted in bush trumping Gore, people here whined that it wasn't democracy. Now they get a result they like by the same process, suddenly it's democratic?

Actually AK was the swing vote only on DOMA, not on Prop 8.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 10:23 am

No, that's the point I've been trying to make. Regardless of the outcome, judicial review of laws isn't particularly democratic. The founders intended it not to be, since Constitutional issues shouldn't be up for a vote of the general public, most of whom have no legal training. It's a feature of our Constitution (as interpreted in Marbury v. Madison; Justice Marshall must considered, in that light, to be one of "the founders"), not a bug.

That's why cries by so-called conservatives, usually such sticklers for the founders' vision of the Constitution, make no sense when they cry "judicial activism!"

Posted by Hortencia on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 12:59 pm

"cries" of whiney liberals when they don't like a SCOTUS decision, as in gore vs Bush, as I keep telling you.

But ultimately even SCOTUS has to be a democratic body, since Justices are appointed by those whom we elect.

Posted by anon on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 1:48 pm

I don't agree with anyone who says a Supreme Court decision is invalid because it's somehow "undemocratic." I can argue that a particular decision is just or unjust, but "democracy" doesn't enter into it.

And yes...the intersection of democracy and the Court begins and ends with the justices' appointment by the president and confirmation by the Senate. Of course, neither of those is all the democratically chosen either. The Electoral College, and the two-senators-from-every state rule, ensure that any claims presidents or senators make to having been chosen democratically are not total.

Posted by Hortencia on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

how we elect our national representatives.

Who sits on SCOTUS fundamentally depends on who is President when a sitting Justice just happens to die, retire or become incapacitated. If W had gotten to appoint one more Justice, liberals would lose most of the issues on SCOTUS. While if Obama is lucky enough to be able to pack one more Hispanic or lesbian onto the bench, the liberals will win most of the time.

So, to my point, it really is at the margin a "tipping point" thing. Most of the Justices rule entirely predictably and it comes down to which wing has the 5 and which wing has the 4.

I'm not saying it's a bad system, but anomalies do occur, inevitably, and it becomes a crapshoot with issues that are close to 50-50.

Posted by anon on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 2:47 pm

I'm not attacking anything except hypocrites who say one day that the judicial overturning of a duly enacted law is how the system is supposed to work who say the opposite the next day because they like the outcome of one but not the other.

Posted by Hortencia on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 3:09 pm

Rereading your comment, I see...

"So, to my point, it really is at the margin a "tipping point" thing. Most of the Justices rule entirely predictably and it comes down to which wing has the 5 and which wing has the 4."

Well, sure. That's pretty obvious. I just wonder what you have to say to the first commenter who complained about the lack of democracy in this system.

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Posted by on Oct. 09, 2013 @ 4:58 am

The following statement, as reported above, is inaccurate:

"That meant private citizens were left to defend a state statute, which was unprecedented, and the Court refused to rule on those grounds. "

Prop 8 was a constitutional amendment, not a statute. While it stood, it could not be overcome either by an act of the state legislature or by an initiative statute.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 11:59 am

SCOTUS ruled as narrowly as it could. They didn't even support Prop 8 - they simply demurred as much as they could and seized the opportunity for a technical demurrer.

The real winner here, therefore, is not gay rights but States' rights. SCOTUS effectively said that it is for each State to decide whether gays should marry.

You can even interpret the rollback of DOMA in the same way, i.e. SCOTUS is telling the Feds to butt out of State matters.

Posted by Guest on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 12:14 pm

while ignoring the fact that it was their party that was responsible for the existence of DOMA .

Posted by Michael W. on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 6:34 pm

Yes there were Democrats who voted for DOMA for a variety of reasons. But there were also Republicans who voted for DOMA as well. Clinton eventually recanted signing DOMA into law. How many Republicans who voted for DOMA have publicly admitted they were wrong?

Posted by Peter on Jun. 26, 2013 @ 10:30 pm

Times change and a vast majority of voters opposed gay marriage 20 years ago.

For that matter, 3/4 of voters opposed the civil rights laws of the 1960's. Society changes in a gradual way, and so it is reasonable for politicians to change over time too.

Clinton is just an opportunist and will say anything, so I would not read too much into his alleged conversion.

Posted by anon on Jun. 27, 2013 @ 5:43 am

But it seems like you're ignoring the fact that it took the Democrats to stop defending the thing in court after a Democratic presidential candidate was elected twice on a platform of repealing the filthy law. One party changed, the other didn't.

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