WASHINGTON -- The Supreme Court made history while it set up new challenges Wednesday with two victories for marriage equality.
In a pair of high-profile decisions, the divided court effectively undercut California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage. Separately, the court struck down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which denies same-sex married couples federal benefits. Together, the rulings provide an emphatic, if incomplete, win for advocates of same-sex marriage.
The decisions address different issues, and neither declares a broad constitutional right to same-sex marriage that covers residents of all 50 states. But in each case, acting on the final day of the term that began last October, a slim 5-4 court majority endorsed a position that helps the same-sex marriage cause, as well as individual couples.
"We're proud of you guys," President Barack Obama said in a broadcast telephone call from Air Force One to the two same-sex couples who had contested Proposition 8, "and we're proud to have this in California."
The Proposition 8 case involved a challenge to the 2008 California ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage. On Wednesday, the court concluded that the supporters of the California ban lacked the legal standing to defend the measure. For same-sex couples in California, the real-world result could be they're able to secure marriage licenses within about 25 days, once an appellate court takes a necessary procedural step.
"As soon as they lift the stay, marriages are on. And wedding bells will ring," California Attorney General Kamala Harris said at a news conference Wednesday morning.
Vikram Amar, a law professor at the University of California, Davis, said, "The only fly in the ointment, possibly, is a county clerk from some conservative county" who may assert that he or she isn't required to issue a same-sex marriage license. Separately, conservative supporters of Proposition 8 have suggested that the trial judge's decision striking down the measure applies only to the two couples who filed the lawsuit.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court didn't clarify the next steps, beyond concluding that Proposition 8 supporters lacked standing to defend the measure.
Standing is the legal term for being eligible to file a lawsuit. To have standing, an individual must have a significant interest in the controversy and must either have suffered an injury or face an imminent threat of injury.