July 25, 2013 | by Chris Johnson
DOMA ruling quickens march toward marriage equality
Jeff Zarillo, Paul Katami, Sandy Stier, Kris Perry, David Boies, Chad Griffin, gay marriage, same-sex marriage, marriage equality, Proposition 8, Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, Prop 8, California, Supreme Court, gay news, Washington Blade

The Supreme Court decision against DOMA has boosted marriage equality activism. (Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

Not even one month after the Supreme Court’s historic decision striking down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, the effects of the ruling are already proliferating as legal authorities throughout the country reinterpret laws to advance marriage rights for gay couples.

Almost like a domino effect, public officials and judges in Ohio, New Mexico, Pennsylvania and Missouri this week alone have acted to advance marriage equality by drawing on the decision in Windsor v. United States as part of their reasoning.

Doug NeJaime, a gay law professor at the University of California, Irvine, said this movement so soon after the Windsor ruling “was anticipated” given the language that Associate Justice Anthony Kennedy used in his opinion.

“Given the flurry of activity, and the quick decisions coming out of places like Ohio, this may mean that the Supreme Court may not be able to avoid the question regarding the constitutionality of state marriage bans as long as some of the justices may hope,” NeJaime said. “Clearly in Perry they were able to push the issue off for a bit, but it doesn’t seem they will be able to avoid the question for more than a few years at most.”

In Ohio, U.S. District Judge Timothy Black drew on the precedent set in Windsor as part of his reasoning in his 15-page decision affording a temporary order requiring Ohio to recognize the marriage of James Obergefell and John Arthur.

“While the holding in Windsor is ostensibly limited to a finding that the federal government refuse to recognize state laws authorizing same-sex marriage, the issue whether States can refuse to recognize out-of-state same-sex marriages is now surely headed to the fore,” Black writes. “Indeed, just as Justice Scalia predicted in his animated dissent, by virtue of the present lawsuit, ‘the state law-shoe’ has now dropped in Ohio.”

In Missouri, the State Supreme Court has asked attorneys involved in a gay death benefits case for an additional briefing in light of the Supreme Court’s decision against DOMA. Kelly Glossip was denied the benefits of her partner, Missouri State Highway Patrol Cpl. Dennis Engelhard, who died in the line of duty in 2009.

In Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County, where the County Commission has directed clerks to distribute marriage licenses to gay couples, the Windsor decision is cited again. Democrat Josh Shapiro is indirectly quoted by the Associated Press as saying the commission believes it has authority to distribute marriage licenses because of the Supreme Court decision against DOMA.

New Mexico Attorney General Gary King also makes reference to Windsor in his 29-page opinion in which he announces he won’t defend a state law in a lawsuit seeking marriage equality. But the decision here is mentioned briefly in a citation along with state marriage lawsuits such as Massachusetts’ Goodridge v. Department of Public Health and Iowa’s Varnum v. Brien.

New application of the Windsor decision can also be seen at the federal level. On Thursday, the Federal Election Commission is set to vote on allowing married same-sex couples to make joint political donations from an individual bank account.

The FEC has previously determined that married gay couples were ineligible to make such contributions under DOMA, but with Section 3 of that law deemed unconstitutional, the commission on Friday published a new draft opinion saying it “now revisits the question.”

Suzanne Goldberg, a lesbian and co-director of Columbia University’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law, said the “pace has been quick, and it’s only getting quicker” with respect to the advancement of marriage equality after the DOMA ruling.

“Part of the cascade of change in the direction of marriage equality comes from the power of Justice Kennedy’s decision striking down DOMA,” Goldberg said. “They could have won, but with a less powerful opinion, which might not have motivated as many government officials to advance marriage equality, but the opinion is powerful and makes clear that discrimination in marriage is unconstitutional.”

In addition to the DOMA ruling, Goldberg also attributed the advancement of marriage equality to elected officials wanting to catch up to other politicians who have endorsed same-sex marriage. Additionally, she said a general cultural shift in the United States and high degree of acceptance of the court ruling is responsible.

“There can be no question that momentum has been building over the past two years, and it’s increased dramatically with the court striking down DOMA,” Goldberg concluded. “I think we can expect the pace of change to continue, but with bumps along the way.”

Chris Johnson is Chief Political & White House Reporter for the Washington Blade. Johnson attends the daily White House press briefings and is a member of the White House Correspondents' Association. Follow Chris

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