The Supreme Court’s ruling on DOMA and Proposition 8 is justice delayed but not denied

The U.S. Supreme Court didn’t go as far as it should have in affirming the rights of same-sex couples, but its rulings on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act still amount to landmark victories for gay rights, and set the stage for full marriage equality.

To no one’s surprise, the conservative court proved unwilling to rule on the constitutionality of Prop. 8, dismissing the case on a technicality in a move that allowed same-sex marriages to resume in California, but left gay couples in the 37 states where such marriages are still banned to wait for another chance at equality.

More encouragingly, the DOMA decision struck down portions of that law in language strongly supportive of the rights of same-sex couples. DOMA, the court ruled, was unconstitutional because its effect was to “disparage and injure” gay couples and treat their marriages as “less respected than others.” The strongly worded ruling, as conservative Justice Antonin Scalia wrote in outraged dissent, essentially declares “anyone opposed to same-sex marriage an enemy of human decency” and “arms well every challenger to a state law restricting marriage to its traditional definition.”

For once, we agree with Scalia: The DOMA ruling provides potent ammunition for attacking state bans on same-sex marriage. The next time marriage equality comes before the Supreme Court, the justices will be hard-pressed to ignore the DOMA case and their decision that unequal treatment of same-sex couples is unconstitutional. Let’s hope that day comes soon, and the justices stay true to their words.