by John Avlon
June 29, 2013
Not since the landmark 1967 case Loving v Virginia, which declared state bans on interracial marriage unconstitutional, has the court weighed in on matters as fundamental as the definition of marriage.
With the nation in the midst of a gay civil rights movement, the highest court in the land was called in to add some clarity to the thicket of conflicting laws and partisan passions. And the bipartisan legal team of David Boies and Ted Olson that helped the Justices reach their conclusion might have provided a durable model for how to call a ceasefire in the culture wars going forward.
The result was the 5-4 decision that The Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by Bill Clinton in 1996 (you read that right), was unconstitutional.
In the words of Reagan-appointed Justice Anthony Kennedy, congresses’ law “places same sex couples in the untenable position of being in a second tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose sexual and moral choices the Constitution protects and it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same sex couples.”
In a second case, the Supreme Court ended up denying the right of sponsors of California’s Proposition 8, which banned same sex marriage at the ballot box, to defend the law in court after a federal court struck it down. This procedural punt opened the door to same sex marriages again in California and potentially accelerates individual state’s embrace of gay marriage.