For Canadians, yesterday’s landmark same-sex decisions from the U.S. Supreme Court probably seems ho-hum. In Ontario, it’s been over 10 years since the Court of Appeal held that the legal definition marriage cannot exclude same-sex couples as a matter of equality rights. Our Supreme Court said the same thing 18 months later in a major reference, which led to wholesale legislative changes across Canada. Indeed, one of the couples at the centre of yesterday’s decisions was married in Canada.
The rulings are not the final word. In United States v Windsor, the USSC struck down, in a 5-4 decision, part of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denied federal benefits to same-sex couples. The New York Times explains the legal “patchwork” still facing same-sex couples given that most states don’t recognize same-sex marriage.
In Hollingsworth v Perry, the USSC ducked the core issue by holding that the applicants didn’t have standing to appeal the District Court’s decision. The trial court held that limiting marriage to opposite-sex couples violated the California Constitution and California officials declined to appeal the decision—the USSC held that proponents of the ban can’t step into the state’s shoes. So, same-sex marriage is legal in California and 13 other states. Though it appears from press reports that both proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage are gearing up for a state-by-state and even constitutional battle, it seems that the proverbial bottle is open and it will be difficult to reverse same-sex marriage rights in the U.S.