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Supreme Court turns to Defense of Marriage Act today

March 27, 2013|From Times staff writers
  • People carry banners and flags during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday, hours before the high court is scheduled to hear arguments on whether Congress can withhold federal benefits from legally wed gay couples by defining marriage as only between a man and a woman.
People carry banners and flags during a rally in front of the U.S. Supreme… (Mark Wilson / Getty Images )

The day after hearing arguments over the constitutionality of California's ban on same-sex marriage, the Supreme Court will continue to wade into the issue of gay rights Wednesday as it hears a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

As Times reporter David Savage points out, the second chapter is about to begin. The court is scheduled to hear discussions on the federal law and whether some of its provisions, including tax benefits and Social Security payments, can be extended to gay couples who have married in states where same-sex marriage is legal.

Last year, however, federal appeals courts in Boston and New York agreed in separate decisions that the law unconstitutionally discriminated against married same-sex couples. 

FULL COVERAGE: Same-sex marriage ban

The Obama administration’s lawyers agree that DOMA is unconstitutional, and U.S. Solicitor Gen. Donald B. Verrilli Jr. will urge justices to invalidate it.

But Paul Clement, who was solicitor general during the George W. Bush administration, will argue on behalf of the law. He is representing House Republicans who believe federal recognition should be limited to “traditional marriage.”

During Tuesday's debate over Proposition 8, social media were awash with opinions on the subject of same-sex marriage, most notably Facebook users' posting of a symbol -- an equal sign on a red background -- that went viral.

The symbol is an altered version of the Human Rights Campaign’s standard blue-and-yellow logo. The advocacy group, which “seeks to improve the lives of LGBT Americans,” had called on its followers to show support for marriage equality by wearing red Tuesday.

The special logo was shared more than 26,000 times Tuesday, according to Facebook.

The enthusiasm will likely carry over to Wednesday.

On Tuesday, the two sides rested in their arguments regarding California's Proposition 8. The fate of one of the nation's most divisive issues was now in the hands of the high court.

The nine justices will decide whether Proposition 8 — which amended the California Constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman — will stand as law.

Californians on both sides listened to Tuesday morning's oral arguments and were handicapping how the court would rule based on the justices' queries. They held rallies and vigils, and talked it over in taverns, coffeehouses and law offices.

Andy Pugno, a lawyer in Folsom who has fought against same-sex marriage for 17 years, recalled his "long and difficult journey getting to this point."

Hearing Tuesday's arguments was "a surreal experience, having started out with this issue at a time when very few people realized that it would become an intense debate."

"And then fast forward 17 years to where it is perhaps the most intense social issue in the country."

Pugno was a legislative aide who worked on Proposition 22, the 2000 ballot measure that defined marriage as a union of one man and one woman, a law the California Supreme Court overturned. Pugno served as legal counsel for the sponsors of Prop. 8.

"It has been very difficult on me, my family and my business," Pugno said. "I have received an awful lot of mean-spirited threats and insults from some same-sex marriage activists."

He said he remains optimistic that the court will uphold Prop. 8.

Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, the former mayor of San Francisco who launched this legal odyssey, sat in on the arguments and came away with the sense that same-sex marriages would resume in June in California.

Newsom said many people, including his father, a Catholic, and some friends and political allies, condemned him for deciding to issue the marriage licenses to same-sex couples in February 2004.

"There's a lot of wounds, a lot of scars," he said. "Those were difficult years and lonely."


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