High court gay marriage decisions due Wednesday
WASHINGTON (AP) – The Supreme Court is meeting to deliver opinions in
two cases that could dramatically alter the rights of gay people across
the United States.
The justices are expected to decide their
first-ever cases about gay marriage Wednesday in their last session
before the court's summer break. Hours before the court was to issue its
rulings, crowds began lining up outside the Supreme Court building in
hopes of getting a seat inside the courtroom.
The issues before the court are California's
constitutional ban on same-sex marriage and the federal Defense of
Marriage Act, which denies legally married gay Americans a range of tax,
health and pension benefits otherwise available to married couples.
The broadest possible ruling would give gay
Americans the same constitutional right to marry as heterosexuals. But
several narrower paths also are available, including technical legal
outcomes in which the court could end up saying very little about
If the court overturns California's Proposition 8
or allows lower court rulings that struck down the ban to stand, it will
take about a month for same-sex weddings to resume for the first time
since 2008, San Francisco officials have said.
The high court rulings are arriving amid rapid
change regarding gay marriage. The number of states permitting same-sex
partners to wed has doubled from six to 12 in less than a year, with
voter approval in three states in November, followed by legislative
endorsement in three others in the spring.
At the same time, an effort to legalize gay
marriage in Illinois stalled before the state's legislative session
ended last month. And 30 states have same-sex marriage bans enshrined in
Among those waiting outside for the opportunity to
hear the justices read their opinions was Ian Holloway, 34, of Los
Angeles, who said he and his partner were optimistic the court would
strike down his state's Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in his
“We have rings ready. We're ready to go as soon as
the decision comes down,” he said. Others outside the court carried
signs reading “2 moms make a right” and “I Do' Support Marriage
While most spectators appeared to be in favor of
gay marriage, there were those against. Larry Cirignano, 57, said he had
driven four hours from his home in Far Hills, N.J., when he heard
Wednesday would be decision day. He carried a sign that read “M=”
followed by symbols for man and woman.
Massachusetts was the first state to allow same-sex
couples to marry, in 2004. Same-sex marriage also is legal, or soon
will be, in Connecticut, Delaware, the District of Columbia, Iowa,
Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New York,
Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.
Roughly 18,000 same-sex couples got married in
California in less than five months in 2008, after the California
Supreme Court struck down a state code provision prohibiting gay unions.
California voters approved Proposition 8 in November of that year, writing the ban into the state's constitution.
Two same-sex couples challenged the provision as unconstitutional and federal courts in California agreed.
The federal marriage law, known by its acronym
DOMA, defines marriage as between a man and a woman for the purpose of
deciding who can receive a range of federal benefits. Another provision
not being challenged for the time being allows states to withhold
recognition of same-sex marriages from other states.
DOMA easily passed Congress and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, the year of his re-election.
Several federal district and appeals courts struck
down the provision. In 2011, the Obama administration abandoned its
defense of the law but continued to enforce it. House Republicans are
now defending DOMA in the courts. President Barack Obama subsequently
endorsed gay marriage in 2012.
The justices chose for their review the case of
83-year-old Edith Windsor of New York, who sued to challenge a $363,000
federal estate tax bill after her partner of 44 years died in 2009.
Windsor, who goes by Edie, married Thea Spyer in
2007 after doctors told them Spyer would not live much longer. She
suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years. Spyer left everything
she had to Windsor.
Windsor would have paid nothing in inheritance taxes if she had been married to a man.
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