The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars federal recognition of same-sex marriage, as well as Proposition 8, the ballot initiative which ended gay marriage in California.

U.S. Supreme Court to hear Prop. 8, DOMA cases

The Prop. 8 case is led by high-profile attorneys Ted Olson and David Boies, who famously argued on opposite sides of the Bush/Gore election challenge, who were recruited for the case by the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

A federal circuit court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals agreed that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional, but opponents of same-sex marriage appealed to the Supreme Court.

The Supreme Court has agreed to consider both the merits of Proposition 8 and whether the opponents had standing to challenge it, according to, a website that reports on the high court.

 According to AFER, attorneys will now submit written briefs and expect oral arguments to occur by April. Other court observers expect arguments in both cases by the end of March and decisions by the end of June.

“AFER brought this federal constitutional challenge to Prop. 8 because denying gay and lesbian Americans the fundamental right to marry is unfair, unlawful and contrary to basic American values,” AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer said in an email shortly after the announcement.

“We have shown the nation that marriage is a fundamental freedom, and that all Americans should be afforded the same fundamental rights, regardless of how they are born and who they choose to love,” he said.

Several challenges to the federal Defense of Marriage Act were also before the Supreme Court. Today, the court agreed to hear the case of Windsor vs. the United States, according to SCOTUSblog.

Edith Windsor and her partner, Thea Spyer, were together for 44 years before Spyer’s death. They were married in Canada and the marriage was recognized in New York, the state where they lived.

After Spyer died from multiple sclerosis, the government taxed Windsor’s inheritance “as though they were strangers,” according to the ACLU, which brought the case.

“Under federal tax law, a spouse who dies can leave her assets, including the family home, to the other spouse without incurring estate taxes,” the ACLU notes.

A circuit court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Windsor and against DOMA.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear the question of whether Section 3 of DOMA violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection, and also whether House Republican leaders had standing to pursue the case after President Obama’s Justice Department stated that DOMA is unconstitutional and refused to defend it in court, according to SCOTUSblog.

Reactions from LGBT groups, gay couples wanting to get married

Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry:

By agreeing to hear a case against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the Court can now move swiftly to affirm what 10 federal rulings have already said: DOMA’s ‘gay exception’ to how the federal government treats married couples violates the Constitution and must fall.

When it comes to the whole federal safety net that accompanies marriage – access to Social Security survivorship, health coverage, family leave, fair tax treatment, family immigration, and over 1000 other protections and responsibilities — couples who are legally married in the states should be treated by the federal government as what they are: married.

Additionally, gay and lesbian couples in California – and indeed, all over the country – now look to the Supreme Court to affirm that the Constitution does not permit states to strip something as important as the freedom to marry away from one group of Americans.

With the clock now ticking on Supreme Court rulings in 2013, it is more urgent than ever that we make the same strong case for the freedom to marry in the court of public opinion that our advocates are making in the courts of law. By winning more states and winning over more hearts and minds, we maximize our chances of victory in court, showing the justices that when they do the right thing, it will stand the test of time and be true to where the American people already are.

Chad Griffin, executive director of the Human Rights Campaign:

A win in either of these cases would mark an incredible, decisive point in this movement’s history, one I’ve been working toward since I helped bring the Prop. 8 case as co-founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights.

Extreme right-wing leaders are going to immediately rally their base around today’s announcement –claiming the Court can’t outpace public opinion.

Thankfully though, a majority of Americans support marriage equality. We have to counteract the other side with one booming, united voice for marriage equality.

The Supreme Court has ruled 14 times that marriage is a fundamental right and with this historic first – a marriage equality case before the Supreme Court – they have a chance to move us toward a more perfect union, as they have done so many times in the past.

We’ve come too far to give up now.  The plaintiff couples of the Prop. 8 case, Kris Perry & Sandy Stier, and Paul Katami & Jeff Zarrillo, have won their case twice before – in a federal district court in California and again in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this year. I’ve been amazed by their courage since we first began planning this case back in 2009.

If the Supreme Court decides in favor of equality, more than a quarter of Americans will live in states where LGBT couples can marry legally.

And if they rule DOMA unconstitutional, every single one of those couples will have the same federal rights and benefits of marriage as heterosexual couples.

The battle may not yet be over, but our strength as a movement is growing. Justice is on our side and we won’t stop until equality reaches every corner of our vast country.

Masen Davis, Transgender Law Center’s executive director:

It helps all of us when the government gets out of the business of policing people’s gender and using gender to define who gets access to important benefits. Marriage equality is an important issue for the entire LGBT community. We know that marriage equality alone won’t solve all of the serious challenges that the transgender community faces. But the increasing recognition of marriage equality throughout the land will, by definition, lessen government scrutiny into what a person’s legal gender is, making it increasingly possible for all of us to live our authentic lives free from discrimination.

Rev. Roland Stringfellow of the Bay Area, a Breakthrough Coalition member who plans to marry his partner Jerry Peterson:

As clergy members, both Jerry and I know that all of us, regardless who we love, are created in God’s image. It is our hope that when the Supreme Court rules on the Perry case next year, more of God’s children will be able to make a lifelong commitment to the person they love, and to strengthen their families, through marriage. Should the Court affirm the unconstitutionality of denying couples like us the freedom to marry, this nation will have taken another great step forward in its journey towards recognizing that we are all created equal, with the same rights and responsibilities, and that those rights include marriage.

Said Corinne and Rose Villanueba of Fresno:

As parents of five teenage children (on top of a nine-year-old!) and domestic partners, we see firsthand every day what a difference it makes for kids to be able to tell their classmates and friends that their parents are married, and how important it is to have the security that comes with marriage. All of us, regardless of who we love, are at the center of a family, and being able to marry means as much to us as it does to our relatives.  We hope that the Supreme Court will rule against Prop 8 next year, and that we will soon be able celebrate our marriage with our children and the rest of our family, knowing that we are equal before the law and that we have the same bond that others share.

NCLR Executive Director Kate Kendell, Esq.:

Both the federal DOMA and California’s Proposition 8 serve only one purpose: to harm and stigmatize same-sex couples and their children. Without a doubt, Ted Olson, David Boies, and our colleagues at the ACLU will make the strongest possible case for equality before the Court. We are confident the Supreme Court will strike down DOMA once and for all next year, and, after four long years, will finally erase the stain of Proposition 8 and restore marriage equality to California couples.The day is now clearly in sight when the federal government, the State of California, and every state will recognize that same-sex couples and their children are entitled to the same respect and recognition as every other family.

Jon Davidson, Legal Director at Lambda Legal:

This is an exciting moment in our journey toward equality. DOMA is a terrible law that forces our government to discriminate against loving same-sex couples, and it is time for it to go. It is clear that DOMA’s days are numbered. Every one of the cases that the Court was considering makes a clear and compelling case for striking down this outrageous and discriminatory law.

As for Hollingsworth v. Perry, while the Supreme Court’s decision to review the Ninth Circuit’s correct and carefully-worded ruling delays the restoration of equal access to marriage for same-sex couples in California, we believe the lower court rulings in California will stand. There is no legitimate justification for the inequality Prop 8 imposes on same-sex couples, and two federal courts have already ruled against it … Securing the freedom to marry for same-sex couples is inevitable, and we look forward with confidence to the day when we can celebrate the final demise of Prop 8.  And if the Supreme Court finds that the proponents of Prop 8 did not have right to appeal, same-sex couples in California will again have the right to marry.


Reaction from anti-LGBT groups

John Eastman, chairman of the Nationa Organization for Marriage (NOM):

We believe that it is significant that the Supreme Court has taken the Prop 8 case. We believe it is a strong signal that the Court will reverse the lower courts and uphold Proposition 8. That is the right outcome based on the law and based on the principle that voters hold the ultimate power over basic policy judgments and their decisions are entitled to respect.

Had the Supreme Court agreed with the lower courts’ decisions invalidating Proposition 8, it could simply have declined to grant certiorari in the case. It’s a strong signal that the justices are concerned with the rogue rulings that have come out of San Francisco at both the trial court and appellate levels. It’s worth noting that Judge Reinhart is the most overruled judge in America. I think this case will add to his record.

Alliance Defending Freedom statement by Jim Campell:

Marriage between a man and a woman is a universal good that diverse cultures and faiths have honored throughout the history of Western Civilization. Marriage expresses the truth that men and women bring distinct, irreplaceable gifts to family life. The legal team looks forward to advocating before the U.S. Supreme Court on behalf of the people’s right to preserve this fundamental building block of civilization.