The US Supreme Court delivered two major decisions in the “marriage cases” on Wednesday morning US time.

The decisions, heard and decided concurrently, are a concern to those who uphold marriage as between a man and a woman.

Hollingsworth v Perry involved the Californian Proposition 8, a 2008 referendum in which 7 million Californians voted to constitutionally define marriage in that state as between a man and a woman. Proposition 8 was upheld by the Californian Supreme Court, but overturned by a federal court on appeal, a decision affirmed by a higher federal appeals court. The State of California declined to appeal this decision, so private citizens appealed it to the United States Supreme Court. However, the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that private citizens did not have legal standing to appeal – in other words they had no right to argue this case.

This decision means that same-sex marriage will recommence in California in the near future, bringing the number of states to have redefined marriage to 13.

In United States v Windsor, the Court had to consider the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a law signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996. Section 3 of this Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman for all federal purposes, was struck down by the Court as unconstitutional.

This means that same-sex couples who marry in one of the 13 states which have redefined marriage will have access to all federal benefits, such as tax, succession, and health benefits, that opposite-sex married couples receive. In America, same-sex couples do not have the same access to federal benefits that married opposite-sex couples have. This is in contrast with Australia, where over 80 pieces of legislation were amended in 2008 to ensure that same-sex couples have all the same rights as opposite-sex couples under federal laws.

It is concerning that the courts failed to honour the will of the Californian people in the first case, and that the US Supreme Court failed to uphold democratically passed legislation in the second case. The importance of marriage as the fundamental basis of family, the foundation of society, and the natural environment in which to raise the next generation, supported by the majority of the population, has been ignored by the judiciary.

The national ramifications of these two decisions are not yet clear, because the Court avoided commenting on same-sex marriage itself. However, for now, 37 states still recognise marriage as the union of a man and a woman, including 32 states which do so in their state constitutions.

It is significant that in the USA marriage is distinctly a state issue. This is in contrast with Australia, where marriage is distinctly a federal issue under the Constitution.

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