US Supreme Court strikes blow for same sex marriage

DOMA and Prop 8 are both unconstitutional following todays rulings.

Two landmark rulings have come out of the US Supreme Court this afternoon. In a 5-4 vote, the Court ruled that the Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bars the federal government from recognising same-sex marriages, violates the equal protection clause of the constitution; and in another 5-4 vote, the court refused to take an appeal from California over whether Proposition 8, a voter initiative which banned same-sex marriage in the state, should remain struck down.

The immediate effect in California is one of relief. The attempt to appeal to the Supreme Court had been hanging over couples' heads since 2010, when the Proposition was initially overturned by the US District Court. In the last three years, the appeal has risen through the court system to the Supreme Court, with its unconstitutionality being reaffirmed every time. Now that SCOTUS has refused to take the case, the unconstitutionality of Proposition 8 is set in stone, and couples in same-sex marriages in the state of California can rest easy.

The overturning of DOMA will have more wide-ranging effects. The act barred the federal government from recognising same-sex marriages at all, through an amendment to the "Dictionary Act" which defines terms used in other pieces of legislation. As a result, a couple legally married in Canada whose marriage was recognised by the state of New York are nonetheless treated as cohabiting by the federal government. This was the background of one of the cases which made it to the court today: Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer had been married for two years when Spyer died. Windsor found herself owing over $350,000 in federal estate taxes which she ought not to have had to pay (the federal estate tax provides an exemption for surviving spouses).

But the most important immediate effect for many will be on immigration. The federal government was not able to recognise same-sex marriages for immigration purposes, leaving many bi-national couples stuck in exile in countries like Britain and Canada. Andrew Sullivan has written extensively about this problem, calling it the "conservative case for same-sex marriage"; and now that case has been made, conclusively.

Photograph: Getty Images

Alex Hern is a technology reporter for the Guardian. He was formerly staff writer at the New Statesman. You should follow Alex on Twitter.

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All the dumb stuff ministers said about technology following the Westminster attack

“The web is an international worldwide phenomenon.”

It’s a bit like realising the country is run by your mum trying to use iMessage for the first time. “Why has it turned blue?” Her Majesty’s Government cries in unison, scrunching its eyes up and holding the nation’s security a metre away from its face.

Yes, this is the horrifying reality of Britain’s counter-terrorism response being in the hands of people who type “www.” into the search bar and bestow iPlayer with an unnecessary “the”.

As government ministers express concerns about encryption – asking WhatsApp to let them in, among other misguided endeavours – following the attack on Westminster last week, they have revealed a worrying lack of any form of technological literacy.

Here are the most terrible bits, which your mole found by surfing the web on doubleyew doubleyew doubleyew dot google dot com:

Home Secretary, Amber Rudd

“Necessary hashtags”

“The best people who understand the technology, who understand the necessary hashtags to stop this stuff ever being put up, not just taken down, but ever being put up in the first place are going to be them.”

Watch out, all you hashtag-happy potential perpetrators of atrocities. If you tweet #iamaterrorist then the government will come down on you LIKE A TONNE OF TETRIS BRICKS.

“We don’t want to go into the cloud”

“If I was talking to Tim Cook, I would say to him, this is something completely different, we’re not saying open up, we don’t want to go into the cloud, we don’t want to do all sorts of things like that.”

The Home Secretary definitely thinks that there is a big, fluffy, probably cumulonimbus cloud in the sky where lots of men in thick-framed glasses and polo necks sit around, typing content and data and stuff on their computer machines.

Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson

“New systems and algorithms”

“They need to develop new systems and algorithms to detect this stuff and remove it.”

Fire up the algorithms, boys! Don’t spare the horses!

“Good men do nothing, and that’s what’s happening here”

“Evil flourishes when good men do nothing, and that’s what’s happening here.”

First they came for the YouTube stars, and I did not speak out – because I was not a YouTube star.

Security minister, Ben Wallace

“The web is an international worldwide phenomenon” 

“We need to explore what we can do within the realms of the web. The web is an international worldwide phenomenon, and businesses and servers are based all over the world.”

Wait, what? The world wide web is both international and worldwide, you say? Is it global and transnational and intercontinental too? Maybe he got technology confused with tautology.

I'm a mole, innit.