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Supreme Court Same-Sex Marriage Rulings Open The Door — At Least Partially

With a stroke of the pen, the United States Supreme Court in the case of Hollingsworth v Perry, took a half step toward legitimatizing same sex marriages by setting aside a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that limited marriage to a man and woman. The impact of the ruling is that same sex couples legally married are now entitled to receive all benefits and privileges afforded by the federal government, in particular social security and tax benefits that are now afforded only to heterosexual spouses

With a stroke of that same pen however, the Supreme Court in United States v Windsor ruled that the voter-initiated ban on same sex marriage that was held unconstitutional in a lower court ruling would be permitted to stand. While the import of this ruling was that same sex couples can now be married in California, the Court failed or perhaps intentionally refused to rule that all such bans on same sex marriages in states other than California were unconstitutional. This in effect leaves the ban on same sex marriages enforceable in 38 states, including Michigan.

The impact of these two rulings is that the Supreme Court will continue to allow each state in the union to retain the constitutional authority to determine and define “marriage”. While the ruling grants same sex couples the same federal benefits traditionally married couples enjoy, it does not answer the question of whether same sex couples are entitled to the same state benefits a traditional married couple enjoys such as the right to adopt children.

While the Supreme Court has opened the door, they were careful not to open that door very wide.