BREAKING NEWS: U.S. Supreme Court to take up DOMA, Prop 8

WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court decided today to take up the Proposition 8 case as well as the Edie Windsor case involving the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

This means the high court will hear DOMA and Prop 8 arguments in the last week of March and issue rulings before its term ends in late June.

Prop. 8 is granted on the petition question -- whether 14th Amendment bars California from defining marriage in traditional way. Plus an added question: Whether the backers of Prop 8 have standing in the case under Article III, according to SCOTUS blog.

The issue of standing has been contentious in the Prop 8 case, and the state of California refused to defend the Prop 8 case on appeal. However, the Ninth Circuit asked the California Supreme Court if supporters of Prop 8 had standing, and California's high court said they did. But now the U.S. Supreme Court is going to take up that issue as well. If the high court rules that the Prop 8 supporters do not have standing, which many legal observers question, then the Prop 8 case could be tossed out on those merits ... and the lower court ruling would be law and California gay and lesbian couples could get married.

In the Windsor case, the government petition (12-307) is the one granted. In addition to the petition question -- whether Section 3 of DOMA violates equal protection under Fifth Amendment, there are two other questions: Does the fact that government agreed with the second California decision deprive the Court of jurisdiction to hear and decide the case, and whether BLAG (House GOP leaders) has Article III standing in this case, SCOTUS blog writes.

New Yorkers Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer were legally married in Canada in 2007. When Spyer died, after the couple had been together for 44 years, Windsor had to pay $363,000 in estate taxes. Had she been legally married to a man, she would have paid zero estate taxes. An appeals court in New York ruled recently that she was deprived of her constitutional right to equal protection under the law.

As with Prop 8, the justices could toss out the DOMA case if it decides that BLAG has no standing because the U.S. Justice Department declines to defend a law that it considers unconstitutional.

Reacting to the Supreme Court news

Rick Jacobs, founder and chair of Courage Campaign:

"Last month, voters from Maine to Washington stood up for equality. Now it's time for the Supreme Court to catch up with the American public. Discrimination and hatred have no place in a country founded on the principles of liberty, justice and equality.

"Despite the efforts of a vocal minority, from politics to business to culture we are seeing a rapid and historic shift towards equality for all. Only a year ago, Don't Ask Don't Tell was repealed. Now, no one cares. Sooner than later, no one will care about loving gay and lesbian couples marrying any more than they care about their straight counterparts doing so.

"Each day of delay brings more suffering and hardship. We continue to have tremendous confidence in the legal team led by Ted Olson and David Boies and will work tirelessly to make sure the court does not reverse years worth of momentum in the this country towards equality."

Chad Griffin, President of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC):

"Today is a milestone day for equal justice under the law and for millions of loving couples who want to make a lifelong commitment through marriage. The passage of Proposition 8 caused heartbreak for so many Americans, but today’s announcement gives hope that we will see a landmark Supreme Court ruling for marriage this term. As the Court has ruled 14 times in the past, marriage is a fundamental right and I believe they will side with liberty, freedom and equality, moving us toward a more perfect union as they have done in the past.

Proposition 8 has been already been declared unconstitutional in Federal District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. Now the Supreme Court has an opportunity to do the same and send a resounding message of hope to LGBT young people from coast to coast that they have the same dignity and same opportunities for the future as everyone else. I believe our cherished constitutional principles will win the day and that the court will uphold the fundamental right that all Americans can marry the one they love.

We are also thrilled that the pernicious and ridiculously named Defense of Marriage Act will have its day in court. I am confident that the Justices will find this law patently unconstitutional and the federal government will get out of the business of picking which marriages it likes and which it doesn't."

With respect to the Proposition 8 case, MEUSA Legal Director John Lewis said:

“It’s crystal clear that the United States Supreme Court should rule in favor of the freedom to marry. Our Constitution guarantees every American the fundamental human right to marry the person they love – regardless of their race, religion, gender, sexual orientation or any other external characteristic. Proposition 8 targeted lesbian and gay people – and lesbian and gay people alone – to take away their freedom to marry and thus exclude them from the American dream. Proposition 8 cannot stand.”

With respect to the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), MEUSA Media Director Stuart Gaffney said:

“The case to end DOMA is compelling. DOMA unfairly denies thousands of legally married same-sex couples across the country federal protections in many areas of their lives such as social security, veterans’ benefits, health care, taxes, and immigration. Every lower federal court that has considered the issue has held that excluding married same-sex couples from these protections in unfair and unconstitutional. It’s time for the United States Supreme Court to do the same.”

Thom Watson and Jeff Tabaco of Daly City, California, who have been together for 10 years and want to marry:

“We are a loving couple who have committed our lives to each other for the past ten years. We are a family, and we want to be married,” said Watson, who shares a life and a home with his partner Jeff. “It is difficult to learn that we will have to wait many more months to be able to marry, but we trust that the U.S. Supreme Court will do the right thing and stand up for every American – and affirm that Thom and I have the freedom to fulfill the American dream of marrying the one you love,” added Tabaco.

Amy Shore and her spouse Sherri, together for nearly 28 years, are a loving, committed couple who are already legally married in California but denied vital federal protections because of DOMA. They said:

”We are honest, hardworking, taxpaying people who care for our aging parents and face many of the same challenges any family does. We are just the same as every other American and should be afforded the same liberties and protections,” said Amy Shore, whose spouse Sherri works at NASA but is denied family health care benefits extended to heterosexual married couples. These health care benefits are critical to Amy and Sherri because Amy is disabled and recently needed neck surgery and Sherri has Multiple Sclerosis. Amy and Sherri risk their home falling into foreclosure and face serious financial difficulties because of the denial of fair and equal treatment.

Winnie Stachelberg of the Center for American Progress:

"For the last several months, we have watched court after court recognize a basic truth: Our Constitution guarantees all people the “equal protection of the laws,” and that includes loving same-sex couples. Today the Supreme Court announced that it will be the next Court to consider whether the Constitution means what it says. We are confident that the justices will recognize what some of the most conservative judges in the country have already acknowledged: Discriminating against same-sex couples is unconstitutional and must end immediately.

Earlier last month voters in Maine, Maryland, and Washington state overwhelmingly rejected marriage discrimination by upholding marriage equality laws in their state, signaling a clear shift away from the federal law that continues to deny legally married same-sex couples the same protections and economic security otherwise afforded to different-sex couples. Also last month, voters in Minnesota voted down an effort to amend the state’s constitution to outlaw marriage equality."

Jon Davidson, Legal Director of Lambda Legal:

"Perry granted on merits and standing of Prop 8 proponents. So no answers (or CA marriages) likely until June, and Court may ultimately duck merits of Prop 8 and allow order striking it down to stand by finding that Prop 8 proponents had no right to seek Supreme Court (and maybe not 9th Circuit) review."

California State Assembly Speaker John A. Perez:

"Today’s announcement that the Supreme Court will take up Hollingsworth v. Perry and the challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act is a reminder that the pathway to justice is long and difficult. The plaintiffs in the initial challenge to Proposition 8, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, presented a powerful and compelling argument that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional, which was eloquently recognized in Judge Vaughn Walker’s ruling in that case. I am very confident that the Supreme Court will rule in favor of our community in Hollingsworth v. Perry, as it is now known, and affirm that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. But until that outcome is secured, our community must continue to fight for justice on every front, from working to secure the Employment Non-Discrimination Act to addressing the issues of homelessness among LGBT Youth."

California State Assembly Majority Leader Toni Atkins:

"Today’s Supreme Court action reflects how important the question of equality for same sex couples is to our nation, especially in light of voter support for marriage equality in four states this past election. I am very hopeful that the Court will confirm what all fair-minded people know to be true – that loving same sex couples who want to make the lifelong commitment of marriage should no longer be treated as second class citizens. In reviewing this case, the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to affirm that the wedding vows of all couples should receive the respect and dignity they deserve. I look forward to the day when this principle is the law of the land."

San Diego City Council President Todd Gloria:

"I feel optimistic that the Supreme Court has decided to review Prop 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act. This is the civil rights issue of my generation. As a proud member of the LGBT community, I appreciate that the highest court in the nation takes this issue seriously. The Court will provide a clear determination of whether I am afforded the same rights to marry as opposite-sex couples. LGBT couples and families are in no way inferior to others, and I believe the Court will legitimize our position, and equality will become the law of the land."

Dr. Delores Jacobs, CEO of the San Diego LGBT Community Center, said:

"To have the opportunity to have this case heard before the United States Supreme Court is an historic step forward in our movement for full equality. This is one of the most significant civil rights cases to reach the high court since Brown v. Board of Education, and provides an opportunity for the Supreme Court Justices to affirm the promise of liberty and justice for all, and the Constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law."

Dwayne Crenshaw, executive director of San Diego LGBT Pride, said:

"It is disappointing that the fundamental right of LGBT couples to be married has been delayed by the Courts decision to take up Prop 8. However, as Dr. King inspired us, 'the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.' I am confident that by June the self-evident truth that the LGBT community deserves marriage equality along with other American's will be realized not only in California as Prop 8 is struck down, but across the nation as DOMA is found unconstitutional as well."

Fernando Lopez, longtime San Diego-based marriage equality activist, said:

"All I can think about today are the couples, children, and families that would be served by a sweeping positive ruling by the Supreme Court. I believe that today's action should give them hope that the American promise of liberty and justice for all will soon include LGBT families. Daily lives continue to be impacted by these discriminatory policies that from their core strip us of our basic humanity by stating that LGBT individuals are incapable and unworthy of love. Now our love and lives will stand through the test of the courts against a flimsy facade of fallacies, and I'm certain that equality will prevail."

Stay tuned to SDGLN for updates and reaction to this story.

Additional reading on Proposition 8

SCOTUS blog has posted the Prop 8 case as a "petition of the day," complete with documents relating to the Supreme Court appeal. Click HERE to review the documents.

Read plaintiffs' brief in opposition HERE.

Read proponents' petition for certiorari HERE.

Read the Ninth Circuit's order denying rehearing en banc HERE.

Read the Ninth Circuit's decision HERE.

Read the federal District Court's decision HERE.

Additional reading on DOMA

Lambda Legal has a "one stop DOMA shop" HERE.

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