Over the short term, Wednesday’s US Supreme Court ruling striking down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act should resolve a long list of injustices to same-sex partners who are legally married. No longer will they be subjected to federal taxes from which opposite-sex couples are exempt, be denied federal retirement benefits routinely granted to opposite-sex spouses, or be kept apart by immigration rules. And no longer will Massachusetts and local employers be burdened by having to treat same-sex couples one way for state purposes and another way for federal purposes.
Yet in writing for a five-justice majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy didn’t simply force the federal government to honor states’ traditional autonomy over marriage and family law. He also set forth a broad, persuasive argument that can only result, over the course of time, in same-sex couples being allowed to marry nationwide — even as he avoids forcing the issue now.