Supreme Court On The Side Of History Part Two: Making History

Will Holmes

Will is a campaigner, political obsessive and sometime amateur actor. Having just helped win the election for Barack Obama, he's looking for his next cause to take up his life. Often seen walking the fields and drinking in the pubs of Kent, he's got a lot of opinions (and love) to share.

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As I wrote a couple of days ago, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS – I just love calling it that) had the opportunity to make history on equal rights for same-sex couples with rulings on two cases. Well, yesterday, it took that opportunity and did just that.

In United States v. Windsor, SCOTUS ruled that the Defence of Marriage Act (or DOMA), a law passed by the administration of Bill Clinton – a law he no longer supports, nor does the current President – was unconstitutional. DOMA defined marriage as between a man and a woman, no matter what individual states’ laws said, and so the federal government could not extend the same rights to same-sex couples. In Hollingworth v. Perry the court decided it could not rule, meaning that a previous court’s decision on Proposition 8 will stand, and same-sex marriages will almost certainly return to California in the very near future.

So many groups in the United States have been campaigning for this, and their hard work must be acknowledged. The Human Rights Campaign (HRC), the US’s largest group campaigning for equal rights for LGBT people, has made equal marriage rights its backbone for the past few years. They were jubilant on Twitter, Facebook and outside the courthouse. From my Twitter feed, it seems like pretty much everyone shares this joy, excitement and happiness (although listening to the call-in on C-SPAN afterwards, you’ll be pleased to know the bigots had their say).

Other groups that have been tirelessly campaigning were quick to comment. Co-Chair of Strengthen Social Security Campaign, Nancy Altman, said ‘Today’s Supreme Court decision […] is an important step forward in providing Americans with greater equality and dignity’. Rick Jacobs, founder of the Courage Campaign, a California based group campaigning for progressive change, said that ‘This is a watershed moment for equality and a clear statement from the highest court in the lane that discrimination and hatred have no place in a country founded on the principles of liberty, justice and equality’. For once, I find myself supporting these gushing, highly charged and over emotional statements. History has been made.

From now on, couples legally married in the states that allow it will have access to the same rights and laws that opposite couples do. They will be allowed the tax breaks; they will no longer face huge bills upon inheritance; international couples will no longer have to be separated; the foreign same-sex partners of Americans will have the same right to a green card. A whole myriad of other benefits will finally be there for same-sex couples. Perhaps more importantly is the recognition of the United States of America that all of its citizens, whoever they love, are equal under the law.

Those wanting to marry in California will again be able to do so. Maybe we’d be celebrating more if SCOTUS had ruled that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, thereby opening the door for all fifty states to offer same-sex marriage, but we will cheer the fact that the most populous state in the nation will legally marry two men and two women.

For now, we celebrate, but tomorrow we fight harder. The President of HRC Chad Griffin has made it his aim to bring full marriage equality to all fifty states within five years, with California there are now twelve, with a couple more (including Illinois) in the pipeline. In the UK we wait for the House of Lords to complete the final two stages in the passage of the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Bill so that marriage equality can finally come to the UK. We fight for more countries in Europe and South America to pass those equality laws they’ve been talking about. And we will continue the pressure to make sure that all LGBT people across the world are treated with the dignity and justice that they deserve.

Crack out the champagne. Get your tuxedos and tiaras on. Grab yourself that American boy or girl and plan your first dance. The inexorable tide of marriage equality in the USA and across the globe has got a massive boost today. Like I said, SCOTUS stood on the side of history. Hooray!

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