In a big day for gay-rights advocates, the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a federal provision denying benefits to legally married gay couples and issued a separate ruling that paves the way for same-sex marriages to resume in California.
Cheers erupted on the steps of the high court, as the rulings were handed down. The latter decision did not speak to the constitutionality of gay marriage bans in California, or in the country as a whole. The court avoided a broad ruling, and rather, determined that the defenders of California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage did not have the standing to appeal lower court rulings against the ban.
As a result, California is likely to allow same-sex marriages to resume in a matter of weeks.
The more sweeping decision came in relation to the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which the court said was unconstitutional and effectively gutted by ruling against a provision that denied benefits to legally married gay couples.
The 5-4 ruling — a major victory for gay-rights advocates — means those same-sex couples would be eligible for federal benefits.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority opinion.
“DOMA divests married same-sex couples of the duties and responsibilities that are an essential part of married life and that they in most cases would be honored to accept were DOMA not in force,” he wrote.
Kennedy wrote that the law “places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage.”
The ruling prompted tension among the divided court. Multiple dissenting opinions were filed. Justice Antonin Scalia, reading from his dissent, said the components of the majority’s ruling are “wrong.”
“The error in both springs from the same diseased root: an exalted notion of the role of this Court in American democratic society,” he said.
Social conservatives were similarly disappointed.

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