Supreme Court DOMA, Prop 8 decisions set stage for next Ill. marriage battle
Historic victories will influence renewed statewide effort
In a landmark victory for the nation’s LGBT community and supporters around the globe, the nation’s highest court effectively struck down two of the most significant laws blocking same-sex couples from equal marriage rights Wednesday — a federal law blocking benefits to married gay and lesbian couples and California’s statewide ban on same-sex marriage, Proposition 8.
In addition, the rulings will likely set the stage for the renewed push for marriage equality legislation in Illinois heating up across the state, local proponents said.
In the case of United States v. Windsor, which challenged the federal Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, the court ruled 5-4 the law is unconstitutional because it violates equal liberty under the Fifth Amendment. “DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.
But with the Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the justices refused to rule, voting 5-4 to vacate and remand the lower court’s decision to strike down the ban because California same-sex marriage opponents did not have sufficient standing to sue in the United States Court of Appeals, Ninth Circuit; therefore, the Ninth Circuit’s earlier decision to strike down the ban now stands. This effectively reinstates marriage equality in California, but may provide little to no precedent for future cases dealing with the constitutionality of laws banning same-sex marriage.
“It is a great day for equality,” said John Knight, LGBT Project director at the American Civil Liberties Union, in response to the DOMA ruling.
After today’s ruling, the more than 1,100 federal marriage benefits and programs — like social security survivor benefits, immigration rights and access to healthcare for federal employees — now will be available to legally married gay and lesbian couples across the country, according to Knight.
“DOMA is the last federal law on the books that mandates discrimination against gay and lesbians,” he said, and added that today’s rulings bring additional urgency to the renewed push for marriage equality legislation in Illinois after it failed to come up for vote before time ran out on the spring legislative session late last month.
Rep. Greg Harris (D-Chicago), chief sponsor of Senate Bill 10 the Religious Freedom and Marriage Fairness Act in the Illinois House, said he is thrilled by the Supreme Court rulings and that the destruction of DOMA sends a clear message to his colleagues, some of whom prevented him from achieving the 60-vote simple majority to pass the bill last session.
“Here you have the Supreme Court saying that the only reason DOMA exists is to treat families less than equal,” Harris told Chicago Phoenix. ”It sends a clear signal to my colleagues that there is no rational reason for our laws to treat one set of families with less respect than others.”
The bill sailed through the Illinois Senate in the early days of the session but stalled after support fluctuated in the following months, ultimately falling short. Harris and other proponents of the measure, including a retooled Illinois United for Marriage coalition, have leveled their aim at the November legislative veto session to clinch victory. But even if the bill passes this fall, marriage equality wouldn’t be legal in the state until June 1, 2014.
“Now Illinois has to step up because individual states determine relationship recognition laws,” Harris said. “My colleagues have to stand up and say that we intend to treat every family in our state with same dignity, respect and love as their neighbors.”
Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn, another powerful proponent of the marriage equality bill, said there are “1,100 new reasons to make marriage equality the law in Illinois” and called for Illinois lawmakers to seize the opportunity to treat all families the same.
“Now is the time for all to put differences aside, band together and redouble our efforts to make it happen,” Quinn said. “I will continue working with members of the Illinois House and all of our tireless community advocates to bring marriage equality to Illinois as soon as possible.”
Several local LGBT rights advocates and organizations are expressing similar urgency, noting that while DOMA is indeed dead, Illinois same-sex couples in civil unions will still be denied those federal marriage benefits because while the civil union law here provides equal state benefits, only full marriage equality would grant them the same benefits from both levels of government.
“This is one of the most important days in the history of our movement for LGBT civil rights. Although we are thrilled with the ruling, we are painfully cognizant that in Illinois same-gender couples still cannot be married and we must change that immediately,” said Rick Garcia, a longtime gay rights activist and director of the Equal Marriage Project at The Civil Rights Agenda. “The Illinois House of Representatives must act as soon as possible.”
Another leading Illinois LGBT rights group, Equality Illinois, called the Supreme Court rulings “bittersweet.”
“For anyone who doubts that civil unions in Illinois created an unacceptable second-class status, the court’s ruling is a powerful message that the state House urgently needs to join the Senate and pass the freedom to marry,” said Equality Illinois CEO Bernard Cherkasov. “It is crystal clear now that by failing to act the House denied gay and lesbian couples equal access to the federal protections that married couples in other states will now enjoy.”
But a vocal Chicago-based LGBT rights and direct action organization is not satisfied with the court’s decision to dismiss the Proposition 8 case, which restricts legalizing same-sex marriage to California alone.
“While many are applauding today’s 5-4 victory over Section 3 of the federal ‘Defense of Marriage Act,’ the big picture story is that by refusing to rule on the substance of California’s anti-gay Proposition 8, the Court has allowed same-sex couples in 37 states to continue experiencing legal discrimination not just in marriage, but in most states, also housing, employment and access to public accommodations,” the Gay Liberation said in a statement.
The group contends the High Court should have made a broad ruling — declaring all state constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage as unconstitutional — instead of issuing a narrow opinion, which ultimately maintains the individual states’ power to decide.
“Privileging state’s rights over individual rights means that equal marriage, let alone equal employment, housing and access to public accommodations in many Southern ‘Bible Belt’ states might be put on the back-burner for a generation or more. It was for similar reasons that all leading figures of the mid-20th Century African American Civil Rights Movement firmly rejected the privileging of ‘state’s rights,’” the GLN statement continued. “How many more decades before gays in Mississippi can marry?”
GLN will stage a demonstration and march at 7 p.m. Wednesday night, beginning in the 7-Eleven parking lot, 3407 N. Halsted St., in the Boystown LGBT enclave on the city’s North Side.
California will now become the 13th state to offer full marriage equality, rejoining 12 states — Massachusetts, Iowa, Maine, Minnesota, Delaware, Rhode Island, Washington, New York, New Hampshire, Maryland, Vermont, Connecticut — and the District of Columbia.