In a move that shook the nation, the Supreme Court last week ruled in the case Windsor v. United States that The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was unconstitutional. The law, which passed both halves of Congress and signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton in 1996, defined what a "spouse" was in a way that made it illegal for homosexual couples to marry. This legal definition meant that same-sex couples couldn't affect or share insurance or social security survivors' benefits, immigration status, bankruptcy or the filing of joint tax returns.
However, in a 5-4 ruling, the Court decided that same-sex couples who are legally married and live in states that recognize gay marriage (which California is one of) will be treated as married by the federal government, effectively overturning DOMA.
"The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. "By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment." Those who agreed and voted to overturn included Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
On the other side, Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito all filed dissenting opinions. Justice Clarence Thomas joined Scalia's dissent in whole and parts of Alito's opinion.
What does mean for Prop 8, the 2008 California ballot initiative that prohibited same-sex marriage by amending the state's constitution? The case was dismissed on the basis that the petitioners don't have standing. The California courts have already struck down Prop 8, so the lawyers opposing the bill don't have standing to defend it. This means the court has effectively validated the rulings of lower courts that have rejected Prop 8.
How the court rule on DOMA and Prop. 8
Supreme Court DOMA Decision Rules Federal Same-Sex Marriage Ban Unconstitutional