So where exactly do today’s two Supreme Court rulings on same-sex marriage leave California’s same-gendered couples? Still married, and likely to remain so.
SCOTUSblog’s Amy Howe in her “Plain English” column calls the result of this judicial cliff-hanger “a home run but not a grand slam” and Professor Melissa Murray of Berkeley Law is similarly cautious in her optimism. She told us via email, “I guess I would say that the two decisions are very promising for the marriage equality movement, though neither legalizes same-sex marriage across the country.” Because of the focus of the court’s decision in the Prop. 8 case, it’s possible to question “whether it applies to all same-sex couples seeking marriage licenses (or just to the two sets of plaintiffs in the case).” But, she adds, “for all practical purposes, the decision legalizes same-sex marriage in California.”
With respect to the ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act, Professor Russell Robinson, also of Berkeley Law and interviewed via email, is a little more upbeat: “This is a major victory for marriage equality. It is difficult to see how the Court could avoid striking down the laws in dozens of states that were enacted solely to exclude same-sex couples from marriage.” Because the opinion, authored by Justice Kennedy explicitly says “The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States,” it does seem like an open invitation to couples from other states to challenge same-sex bans like California’s Prop. 8.
Looking ahead, Murray pointed out that “It’ll be interesting to see what the legalization of same-sex marriage will mean for the state-level and municipal-level domestic partnership schemes that exist in California.” After all, if actual marriage is available to everyone, some would see less need to extend the benefits to unmarried couples.
Meanwhile, Governor Jerry Brown ’61 has passed the word that all California counties should start issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the district court lifts its ban. This should give wedding planners an economic boost, at the very least.