Last week’s Supreme Court’s ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act is an unequivocal victory for marriage equality. Indeed, in some ways, the decision can be situated alongside the landmark gender and race equality cases of the last several decades.
Although the court’s rationale in the United States v. Windsor was not always clear — perhaps, intentionally ambiguous — it held that DOMA was unconstitutional in that it violated the equal protection of the law as well as bedrock principles of federalism. It violated equal protection because it unconstitutionally discriminated between legal marriages in certain states in which there was marriage equality without any no rational basis for the distinction. DOMA violated the principles of federalism because it failed to respect the laws of those states in which same-sex marriage was allowed. While the federal government is not without authority in this area, the definition and regulation of marriage has long been within the authority and realm of the states.