From Michael Cole-Schwartz at HRC

Another Federal Court Rules Federal Ban on Marriage Recognition for Gay Couples Unconstitutional

WASHINGTON – In yet another blow to the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), today, June 6, 2012, a federal court in New York ruled the law to be unconstitutional, and found that laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians should be subject to heightened scrutiny.  The ruling comes in the case of Windsor v. United States, where DOMA forced the federal government to tax Edie Windsor’s wife’s estate as if they had never been married.  The House Republican leadership hired private attorney Paul Clement to defend the statute in court and this is now the fourth out of four courts where Clement has defended DOMA and lost.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese released the following statement in response to the decision: “The dominoes continue to fall on DOMA with yet another federal court rightly calling it unconstitutional.  All loving and committed married couples should be recognized by the federal government yet we continue to see the terrible pain DOMA inflicts on real families.  The real question is when Speaker Boehner will see the writing on the wall and stop wasting taxpayer dollars defending this outrageous law and instead work to repeal it.  Paul Clement’s record of zero for four speaks for itself.

“We applaud the ACLU and Edie Windsor, as well as the attorneys at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, for their incredible efforts on behalf of gay and lesbian couples across the nation and are confident that one day soon families will no longer have to live under the burden of this onerous law.”

Currently, six states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry.  This year, legislatures in Maryland and Washington State approved marriage equality laws, but they are not yet in effect and are likely to be subject to popular referenda.  Under a 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), even lawfully-married couples cannot be recognized by the federal government, and as a result are denied access to more than 1,100 rights, benefits and responsibilities under federal law.  These include Social Security survivor benefits, federal employee health benefits for spouses, protections against spouses losing their homes in cases of severe medical emergencies, the right to sponsor a foreign born partner for immigration, the guarantee of family and medical leave and the ability to file joint tax returns, among many others.

 
 
Opponents of Equality May Now Appeal to U.S. Supreme Court

WASHINGTON – In an announcement that could either lead to a return to marriage equality in California or a historic case before the U.S. Supreme Court, today the full U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit declined to review a February decision of that court ruling that California’s constitutional amendment stripping loving, committed gay and lesbian couples of marriage violates the U.S. Constitution.  With today’s announcement, the proponents of Prop 8 are now likely to seek review by the U.S. Supreme Court and the Ninth Circuit is likely to continue the stay of its decision until that process is complete.  In the event that the Supreme Court decides not to hear the case, the lower court ruling would stand and gay and lesbian couples would again be able to marry in California.

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese released the following statement in response to today’s announcement:

“Once again, a federal court has affirmed that the cherished guarantees of our Constitution are there to protect all Americans – including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  For over three years, the plaintiffs, the American Foundation for Equal Rights, and attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies have shown tremendous fortitude and perseverance in their fight for marriage equality.  With today’s announcement, we are one step closer to ensuring that gay and lesbian Californians – and, one day, our entire community nationwide – are able to join the institution of marriage and have their love and commitment respected equally.

“Today’s announcement is another significant step on a path that we all know leads to equality.  While the U.S. Supreme Court may ultimately decide the outcome of this case, we must all continue to walk that path – in this case and other courtrooms, in legislatures, at ballot boxes and at kitchen table – until all LGBT people are fully and equally part of the American community.”

In response to a 2008 decision by the California Supreme Court ending marriage discrimination in the state, anti-equality forces succeeded in placing a constitutional amendment on the November ballot. Despite over 18,000 same-sex couples having married, California voters adopted the amendment, known as Proposition 8. After the California Supreme Court determined in 2009 that the adoption of Prop 8 did not itself violate the California Constitution, two plaintiff couples -- Kris Perry and Sandy Stier and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo – filed suit against the State of California in federal court, represented by attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies and supported by the American Foundation for Equal Rights, an organization co-founded by incoming HRC President Chad Griffin  The proponents of Prop 8 intervened in the case to defend the constitutionality of the amendment.

Judge Vaughn Walker, then-chief judge of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, held a historic trial in January 2010, in which the plaintiffs presented substantial testimony and evidence to show that Prop 8’s only purpose is to discriminate against same-sex couples.  In August 2010, in a historic decision, he concluded Prop 8 is unconstitutional.  That ruling was appealed to a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, which affirmed Walker’s conclusion that Prop 8 in unconstitutional in February 2012, but stayed its decision as the proponents sought a rehearing.