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Proposition 8 Ruling Explained

Posted by on in Divorce
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In late June, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was unconstitutional, and that the benefits available to legally married heterosexual couples should be available to legally married gay couples. The 1996 federal law had defined the institution of marriage as a union between a man and a woman, thus denying federal benefits for gay couples whose marriages were recognized at the state level—like joint tax returns, Social Security, health insurance, pension protection, benefits for military couples, and immigration protections for couples from different countries.

The court invalidated DOMA in a 5-4 ruling. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who delivered the decisive vote along with the court’s four liberal justices, wrote the majority opinion stating that DOMA “violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government.”

The Prop 8 ruling, on the other hand, is less decisive and more complicated. Proposition 8 was a 2008 California ballot initiative that prohibited same-sex marriage by amending the state’s constitution. The case was dismissed on the basis that the petitioners lacked standing. Since the California courts have already invalidated Prop 8, the outside lawyers supporting Proposition 8 have no standing to defend it. This means the court has effectively validated the rulings of lower courts that have rejected Prop 8 (

In this blog, we will answer some questions to further explain this ruling.

Is gay marriage legal in the state of California now?

SCOTUS's decision itself does not legalize gay marriage, or speak to the validity of gay marriage bans, but the lower court decision overturning Prop 8 still stands. Same sex marriages have resumed in California after the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals took the unusual step of lifting a stay during the 25 day period before SCOTUS’s decision became final.

Can legally married gay couples file for income tax deductions and receive the same tax, health and retirement benefits as different sex couples?

Yes, the ruling against DOMA should allow legally married gay couples (or, in some cases, a surviving spouse in a same-sex marriage) to receive the same benefits and tax breaks available to legally married heterosexual couples (

What about an appeal?

On July 15, the California Supreme Court refused to stop gays from marrying while it considers a legal bid to revive Proposition 8. The court rejected a request by ProtectMarriage, the sponsors of the 2008 ballot measure, to stop the issuing of marriage licenses to same-sex couples while considering the group’s contention that a federal judge’s injunction against the marriage ban did not apply statewide. The court is not expected to rule on the group’s petition until August, at the earliest.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided last month that ProtectMarriage lacked the legal right to appeal a 2010 injunction against Proposition 8 issued by a federal trial judge in San Francisco. Gov. Jerry Brown said the injunction compelled him to order county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples.

But ProtectMarriage insists the injunction applies only to two counties at most and that Brown erred when he ordered clerks to stop enforcing the marriage ban.

State Attorney General Kamala D. Harris has contended that ProtectMarriage is asking the state court to interfere with a federal court order in violation of the constitution (

If you would like more information about same-sex marriage and the rapidly changing associated rights and responsibilities, please contact The Law Office of Matthew J. Rudy for a free 1-hour consultation today.

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Guest Saturday, 13 July 2024