Ding dong, DOMA's dead! Great, so what does that mean?

On it's final day of handing down decisions, the Supreme Court of the United States handed down two gay rights decisions:  Windsor v U.S. about the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and Hollingsworth v Perry about Prop 8 in California (the anti-gay marriage proposition).  Read individually, in Windsor v U.S., the Defense of Marriage Act section on federally defined marriage was struck down.  In practical terms, this means that the federal government will recognize same-sex marriages performed by states that have it.  This move is important because more than 1,300+ legal benefits are tied to the legal definition of marriage.  Social Security, tax benefits, veteran's survivor benefits will all now be available to same sex partners.  This is HUGE for gay couples who have been denied these benefits.

In Hollingsworth v Perry, the result was ambiguous.  The case was dismissed for lack of standing, a technicality to say the the Court will not hear the appeal. Practically, it means that the ruling of the district court stands and that ruling says Prop 8 may not be enforced.  The Perry case does not make it so gay marriage will now resume in CA and more legal challenges will likely follow to force that move if state level clerks again refuse to hand out marriage licenses to gay couples.

Read together, Windsor and Perry are a mixed bag but a definite positive step forward for gay rights.  As big a victory Windsor is, it does NOT extend gay marriage to all the land.  It says that defining marriage has been traditionally left to the states and that will continue.  So if a state chooses to ban gay marriage, they can.  BUT, if a state chooses to legalize gay marriage, then the feds will also recognize that marriage as valid for the dispensation of federal legal benefits and privileges.

For the 24,000 binational gay couples, the immigration implications of the Windsor v U.S. case are significant.  Among the 1,300+ legal benefits deriving from marriage under federal law is the ability to file an immigration family petition to give one's spouse a Green Card to reside in the U.S.  But in order to qualify to petition for same-sex spouses, the couple would need to be legally married by a state that allows gay marriage.  It is not clear whether these two decisions together would mean the federal government will also recognize for immigration purposes same-sex marriages performed by foreign countries.

Overall, today's development's set the country on the right path toward full legal equality for LGBT citizens.  But there is a lot of work to be done at the state level to make sure that gay marriage is extended to all states.