Editor’s Note: We’ll have more tonight at 8 and 11 p.m. ET on the Supreme Court’s rulings. Senior Legal Analyst Jeffrey Toobin will join Anderson, as will columnist Andrew Sullivan and Jean Podrasky, Chief Justice John Roberts' gay cousin will react to today's rulings along with her partner.
Today, voting 5-4, the U.S. Supreme Court threw out part of the Defense of Marriage Act, a law that denied hundreds of federal benefits to same-sex couples. The high court said legally married same-sex couples must receive the same benefits provided to heterosexual couples. The act had defined marriage as only between a man and a woman, but the court said the law violated the rights of same-sex couples by demoting their marriages to second-class status when compared to their heterosexual peers.
In another landmark case, the justices, in a 5 to 4 decision, also handed a victory to same-sex proponents when it cleared the way for gay and lesbian couples to marry in California, dismissing an appeal to the state's voter-approved Proposition 8 that banned such marriages.
The Supreme Court sided on Tuesday with adoptive parents in a divisive custody fight over a Native American child after the biological father asserted his parental rights. The justices, by a 5-4 margin, said the adoption by a white couple was proper and did not intrude on the federal rights of the father, a registered member of the Cherokee tribe, over where his daughter, Veronica, 3, would live. The court said the father could not rely on the Indian Child Welfare Act for relief because he never had legal or physical custody at the time of adoption proceedings, which were initiated by the birth mother without his knowledge.
Here’s the AC360 411 on the U.S. Supreme Court: FULL POST
Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox
Special to CNN
Editor's Note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Robert P. Jones and Daniel Cox. Dr. Robert P. Jones is the CEO and Daniel Cox is the Director of Research for Public Religion Research Institute, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and education organization specializing in work at the intersection of religion, values, and public life.
The ruling yesterday by U.S. District Court Chief Judge Vaughn R. Walker that Proposition 8 violates the constitution highlights the shifting attitudes in California and in the nation over the legality of same-sex marriage. A major public opinion survey released last month by our firm, Public Religion Research Institute, casts important light on the changing religious landscape on this issue, with some surprising findings.
The PRRI survey of more than 3,000 Californians found that if Proposition 8 were on the ballot today, it would not pass.
A majority (51 percent) of Californians now say they would vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry, compared to 45 percent who say they would vote to keep same-sex marriage illegal.
Despite the fact that the debate over same-sex marriage is often framed as one between secular liberals and conservative people of faith, we found that there are major religious groups on both sides of the battle over Proposition 8 in California. Solid majorities of Latino Catholics and white mainline Protestants, along with a majority of white Catholics, say they would vote to allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. On the other hand, solid majorities of African American Protestants, white evangelical Protestants, and Latino Protestants say they would vote to keep same-sex marriage illegal.
Editor's note: The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Christopher Wolf, a privacy lawyer in Washington.
Special to CNN
Two federal judges have made an important difference in my life recently. I am a lawyer, and judges' rulings frequently have a professional effect. But this time, it's personal.
This spring, a federal judge from the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia officiated at my marriage to my partner of 13 years, Jim, under the laws of the District of Columbia, where we live. On Wednesday, Judge Vaughn Walker ruled that the Proposition 8 ballot initiative in California denying same-sex marriage violated fundamental legal rights guaranteed by law.
His ruling has given my marriage even greater meaning. The restoration of rights to others and the further recognition of the right to marry makes the enjoyment of our rights even more fulfilling.
Judge Walker wrote in a 136-page decision that Prop 8 violated both the due process and equal protection clauses of the United States Constitution, concluding:
"Proposition 8 fails to advance any rational basis in singling out gay men and lesbians for denial of a marriage license. Indeed, the evidence shows Proposition 8 does nothing more than enshrine in the California Constitution the notion that opposite sex couples are superior to same-sex couples."
That, of course, is not the last word on the subject, as appeals to the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and to the United States Supreme Court are expected. But, the thorough analysis following a lengthy trial and the thorough recognition of the right to same-sex marriage as a matter of constitutional law creates a high barrier for opponents to surmount.
A federal judge in California on Wednesday overturned the state's ban on same-sex marriage, saying the voter-approved rule violated the constitutional rights of gays and lesbians.
The decision, issued by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco, is an initial step in what will likely be a lengthy legal fight over California's Proposition 8, which defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
At stake in the trial was whether California's ban on same-sex marriage violated the constitutional rights to equal protection and due process of two gay couples that want to marry.
The case was watched closely by both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage, as many say it is likely to wind its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. If it does, the case could end in a landmark decision on whether people in the United States are allowed to marry people of the same sex.
"We are thrilled with today's ruling, which affirms that the protections enshrined in our U.S. Constitution apply to all Americans and that our dream of equality and freedom deserves protection," said Geoff Kors, executive director for Equality California, shortly after the decision.
Kristin Perry and Sandy Stier, along with Jeffrey Zarrillo and Paul Katami, are the two couples at the heart of the case, which if appealed would go next to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals before possibly heading to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Outside a San Francisco courthouse, a small group of same-sex marriage supporters waited for the decision. They waved flags and carried signs that read: "We all deserve the freedom to marry." Rallies were planned for later in the day.
Proposition 8 is part of a long line of seesaw rulings, court cases, debates and protests in California over the hotly debated issue of same-sex marriage. It passed with some 52 percent of the vote in November 2008.
Prior to Wednesday's decision, Rick Jacobs, founder of the Campaign Courage, which supports same-sex marriage, said he was hopeful about the possibility of victory, but prepared for a long legal battle.
Washington - While closing arguments have ended in California's Proposition 8 trial - a case that will determine the constitutionality of California's same-sex marriage ban - the outcome may not have an impact on states considering similar legislation.
The reason: State budget crises and the upcoming elections have shifted the focus from social issues to fiscal stability, which will sidetrack same-sex marriage legislation in other states, a policy expert said.
"I have also seen this issue pushed aside since the recession started. States are just so focused on budgets and the shortfalls," said Christine Nelson, a program director at the National Council of State Legislatures. "I had a legislator tell me 'Are you kidding? Our state needs money and job creation. So why in the world would we be tackling that?' "
Nelson, who follows the issue of same-sex marriage, said there's been very little legislative activity this year, which she attributes to a year where most legislators are up for re-election.
CNN Legal Analyst
A pop star could have a quickie Vegas wedding tomorrow, to a man she meets tonight, if she so chooses. Scott Peterson, convicted of the murder of his pregnant wife and on death row, has an inalienable right to a prison wedding with a female pen pal if the mood strikes him.
Indiana grandmother Linda Wolfe holds the Guinness World Records title for most marriages: 23. One lasted just 36 hours. She's on the lookout for No. 24, and when she finds him, no law can stop her from marrying him.
The U.S. Supreme Court has held unanimously that "the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Marriage is one of the basic civil rights of man."
So basic, so important, so fundamental, in constitutional parlance, that no state can interfere with even the most reckless heterosexual nuptials.