Supreme Court strikes down federal Defense of Marriage Act

The crowd outside the United States Supreme Court on Wednesday.

The Supreme Court issued two major rulings Wednesday on same sex marriage.

The high court ruled the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional and dismissed an attempt to revive California's same sex marriage ban.

The major ruling today is about federal benefits, but same sex marriage supporters see a much wider victory.

Gay marriage supporters erupted in cheers outside the Supreme Court after the decision to strike down DOMA and to keep same-sex marriage legal in California.

In a 5-4 decision written by swing Justice Anthony Kennedy, the court found that DOMA violated the US Constitution's equal protection clause.

The 1996 law defined marriage as between a man and a woman and banned federal benefits to same-sex couples.

David Boies, a lawyer who argued against California's Proposition 8, said the Supreme Court decision guarantees every person in every state marriage equality.

But the decision is likely to incite a backlash among gay marriage opponents and recharge their efforts. They say the fight is far from over.

"The supreme court has NO authority when comes to nature of marriage," said Rev. Rob Schenck, Evangelical Church Alliance.

The ruling does not guarantee a right to same-sex marriage, but rather, it forces the government to recognize such unions in states where they've been declared legal.

In a related but narrower decision, the court ruled against supporters of a same-sex marriage ban in California, saying they didn't have the legal standing to file their appeal to the high court. That means a lower court's ruling against Proposition 8 stands and same-sex marriage will once again be legal in California.

While the ruling applies to just 13 states, same-sex marriage supporters consider them landmarks.

Read the court's opinion here.

Follow the SCOTUS blog here.

While the decision does not dictate to states that they must allow gay marriage, proponents of gay marriage will now have stronger legal ground to challenge same sex marriage bans.

California Proposition 8

The Supreme Court also cleared the way for same-sex unions in California.

The court voted 5-4 to leave in place a trial court declaration that a California voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage is unconstitutional.

California voters passed Proposition 8 in 2008, banning same-sex unions in the state. But three years ago, a San Francisco federal district court struck down Proposition 8, ruling it unconstitutional.

Supporters of Proposition 8 brought the case to the Supreme Court. In Wednesday's ruling, the justices said those supporters did not have a right to appeal lower court rulings striking down the ban.

Indiana rally

LGBT groups from across Indiana are planning a rally at the Statehouse at 6:30 pm tonight in response to the rulings.

See an analysis of today's rulings.

Live stream of NBC coverage.

See a list of states that allow gay marriage.

See a map showing gay marriage laws by state.


Watch Eyewitness News at Noon to hear from groups on both sides of the debate. This story will be updated with their comments.

House Speaker Brian C. Bosma (R-Indianapolis) issued the following statement in response to today's United States Supreme Court rulings:

"I am disappointed the federal Defense of Marriage Act has been overturned. I am certainly pleased the Supreme Court has confirmed each state's right to address the legal issue of what constitutes one of the most important institutions in our society.

The members of the General Assembly will be fully equipped to address the issue of the constitutional amendment in the coming legislative session, and with today's decision, I am confident the matter will come before the General Assembly and ultimately be placed on a referenda ballot for voter consideration. As they have in 30 other states, Hoosiers should have the right to speak on this issue."

Former Massachusetts Rep. Barney Frank (D), the first openly gay Congressman and the first to get married, spoke to NBC.

"I am very happy as I hear what appears to be the basis of the decision - first of all a reaffirmation of equal protection," said Frank. "This really is classic equal protection jurisprudence. The surprise is not the five justices found for it; it's that four justices still want to make those of us who are gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender an exception to traditional jurisprudence. Secondly, it is a fact that we as a class are entitled to this. It is very, very important both specifically to a lot of hard-working people who pay their taxes and haven't been getting the full benefits and it's one more step towards doing what I think is the most important constitutional mandate we have."

Frank says the Constitution set forward "a number of radical principles for the time, but it excluded a lot of people from the benefit of those rights."

Chanting "DOMA is Dead," supporters of same-sex marriage burst into cheers Wednesday at news of the Supreme Court's decision invalidating part of a law denying gay marriage partners the same federal benefits heterosexual couples enjoy.

Sarah Prager, 26, cried when she heard the news standing outside the court. Prager married her wife in Massachusetts in 2011 and now lives in Maryland.

"I'm in shock. I didn't expect DOMA to be struck down," she said through tears and shaking. Prager was referring to the Defense of Marriage Act, signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996, which was aimed at preserving the legal definition of marriage as between a man and a woman.

A large crowd had thronged to the high court's plaza earlier to await not only the decision on DOMA, but also a ruling on whether a constitutional amendment in California prohibiting gay marriage could stand the test of challenge.

Most of the crowd that spilled across the sidewalk in front of the court were gay marriage supporters. One person held a rainbow flag and another wore a rainbow shawl, and a number of people carried signs with messages including "2 moms make a right" and "'I Do' Support Marriage Equality." Others wore T-shirts including "Legalize gay" and "It's time for marriage equality." At several points the crowd began a call and response: "What do we want? Equality. When do we want it? Now."

Larry Cirignano, 57, was in the minority with a sign supporting marriage only between a man and a woman. He said he drove four hours from Far Hills, N.J., because he believed all views should be represented. He said he hopes the court follows the lead of 38 states that have defined marriage as between one man and one woman

George Washington University student Philip Anderson, 20, came to the court with a closet door that towered above his head. He had painted it with a message opposing the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman and which the court is considering. His door read: "This used to oppress me. Repeal DOMA; Now. No more shut doors."

Thirty-four-year-old Ian Holloway of Los Angeles got to the court around 7 a.m. to try to get a seat inside the courtroom. Holloway said he and his partner had planned to get married in March but when the justices decided to hear the case involving California's ban on gay marriage they pushed back their date.

He said, "We have rings ready. We're ready to go as soon as the decision comes down." Holloway said he was optimistic the justices would strike down Proposition 8, which banned gay marriage in California.