Nontheists Applaud Supreme Court Decisions on DOMA, Prop 8

Washington, DC – The Secular Coalition for America today applauded the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and to dismiss the appeal of the lower court’s decision on Proposition 8, making marriage equality legal again in California.  

Both cases impact marriage equality. California’s Proposition 8, barred same-sex marriage in the state, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act, denied federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

Executive Director, Edwina Rogers, said the Coalition celebrates the Court’s decision on DOMA, noting that the U.S. Constitution extends “equal protection of the law” to all citizens.

“Efforts to restrict same-sex couples from access to civil marriage are blatant attempts to insert religious beliefs into our secular government,” Rogers said. “We applaud the Court’s decision on DOMA and Proposition 8, but we recognize there is still a lot of work to be done throughout the country in ensuring that marriage equality is the rule for all.”

In a 5-4 decision, the Court found that DOMA is unconstitutional “as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” The ruling means that same-sex couples who are legally married will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law. Under DOMA same-sex married couples weren’t entitled to more than 1,100 federal rights and benefits that married heterosexual couples receive, including Social Security and immigration benefits.

The opinion read in part, "DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty." Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito dissented, Clarence Thomas dissented in part.

The Court also dismissed the appeal to the lower court’s decision on Proposition 8, making marriage equality legal once more in California on standing grounds. In February 2012, a panel of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Proposition 8, in a 2-1 vote, which overruled a state Supreme Court decision allowing gay marriage calling the ballot initiative “discriminatory and unconstitutional.” The Circuit Court’s decision upheld the U.S. District Court’s earlier decision against Proposition 8 as well.

Proposition 8, passed in 2008 banned civil same-sex marriage in the state of California. Prior to the passing of Proposition 8, same-sex marriage was briefly legal in California and 18,000 same-sex couples were legally wed. Seven states prohibit same-sex marriage by statute and 30 prohibit it in their state constitutions. The ballot initiative was heavily backed by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints because it conflicted with the church’s beliefs on marriage. The Church is estimated to have spent more than $20 million to pass the initiative.

The Secular Coalition has been a long-time supporter of marriage equality and an opponent of all theological definitions for civil contracts. The Coalition supports the repeal of all laws, including at the state level, that seek to define marriage as "one man, one woman."

Civil marriage is a license by the state with no religious requirement. Furthermore, civil contract of marriage is given by governmental entities who cannot respect one religion over another, or religion over non-religion.

“The decisions on DOMA and Prop 8 are very big and important battles won in a long war—despite the Court’s ruling, in states across the country same-sex couples are still denied civil marriages based on religious ideology,” Rogers said. “Laws like these treat same-sex couples inequitably and fly in the face of the very freedoms our Constitution provides us. The fight now turns to the states that refuse to treat same-sex couples equitably.”

DOMA, passed in 1996, restricted federal recognition of same-sex marriages and marriage benefits. The law also did not require states to recognize same-sex marriages carried out in other states, the way they are required for heterosexual married couples. The Court’s ruling on DOMA repeals the nation-wide restrictions on same-sex marriage but does not directly affect the various state laws governing gay marriage. Same-sex couples married in the twelve states where it is legal, along with the District of Columbia, will begin to receive federal benefits and become subject to more than 1,000 federal laws and programs.

Despite that 12 states and the District of Columbia have legalized same-sex marriage, only Connecticut and Massachusetts recognized same-sex marriages from other states prior to DOMA being struck down, with California recognizing them on a conditional basis.

The Secular Coalition and its state chapters will continue to work to ensure all laws—including laws governing civil marriage—are based on reason, science and logic, rather than religious ideology.

 

CONTACT: Lauren Anderson Youngblood, SCA Communications Manager at lauren@secular.org, (202)299-1091 ext. 205, cell (202)630-9725

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