In its second gay rights case of the day, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 to dismiss an appeal of Proposition 8 on standing. The decision of the Ninth Circuit Court striking down Prop 8 was “vacated and remanded,” meaning same-sex couples in California will once again have the right to marry — but marriage equality is not newly legalized anywhere else.
Hollingsworth v. Perry considered the constitutionality of a state law: Proposition 8, which amended California’s constitution to limit marriage to a union between one man and one woman. California voters passed Prop 8 through a ballot initiative in 2008, just five months after same-sex couples could begin to legally marry in the state. It was deemed unconstitutional in several lower courts, and the Supreme Court ruled petitioners did not have standing to appeal the district court order.
From the full opinion (PDF):
It’s absolutely incredible that LGBT couples in California will once again be able to marry — and now, have their marriages recognized federally with the repeal of DOMA moments ago — and we should be thrilled for them. That said, there is tons more work to be done.
We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here. The Ninth Circuit was without jurisdiction to consider the appeal. The judgment of the Ninth Circuit is vacated, and the case is remanded with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.
The ambiguity in the Court’s decision signals that we’re not politically ready to prioritize basic human rights over the vote of a privileged majority. After all, neither decision explicitly states that same-sex marriage is a constitutional right. This decision invites other states to begin their own battles over marriage equality laws that have already passed or those still in the works, and it certainly leaves the door wide open for the Court to make a more definitive decision in the future about the constitutional right to marriage. If the momentum of the LGBT rights movement keeps up, we may see other cases surface before too long.
This has been a grueling and emotional battle for many of us, but we have to remember that marriage isn’t the end. We need better treatment of LGBT people in the workplace and in education. We need to protect LGBT people who face a greater risk of homelessness, suicide, wrongful incarceration and violence. Across the board, we need to treat each other with greater respect and greater dignity.
The wait for these cases may be over, but the fight for equality certainly isn’t.