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POLITICS: PennAve

DOMA ruling doesn't settle gay-marriage debate

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Politics,Gay Marriage,Supreme Court,PennAve,Sean Lengell,Law

While the Supreme Court's decision Wednesday to throw out the federal Defense of Marriage Act was a huge boost for same-sex marriage advocates, the issue is far from settled, as advocates on both sides of the debate are using the ruling as inspiration to rally their troops.

The high court's 5-4 ruling prohibits the federal government from denying benefits to same-sex couples who are legally married in the 12 states, as well as the District of Columbia, that recognize same-sex marriages.

But social conservatives downplayed the ruling, stressing it doesn't give gays and lesbians the constitutional right to marry and vowed to continue to fight the growing gay-rights movement.

"The court today did not impose the sweeping nationwide redefinition of natural marriage that was sought" by gay-rights advocates, said Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council.

"We will continue to work to restore and promote a healthy marriage culture, which will maximize the chances of a child being raised by a married mother and father."

Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minn., a Tea Party favorite and a 2012 GOP presidential candidate, accused the Supreme Court of judicial activism and said it will end up on the wrong side of history.

"Marriage was created by the hand of God. No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted," she said. "For thousands of years of recorded human history, no society has defended the legal standard of marriage as anything other than between man and woman."

But legal experts say that Justice Anthony Kennedy's strongly worded rebuke of DOMA in his majority opinion, in which he said the law has "burdened" the lives of married gay couples, may help fuel the gay-marriage movement.

"The proponents of same-sex marriage are going to make some use of that really rather soaring rhetoric in the Kennedy opinion," said Russell Wheeler, a legal expert with the Brookings Institution, a prominent Washington think tank.

Although Kennedy's comments and the decision don't provide direct legal precedent for states to adopt same-sex marriage laws, Wheeler said gay-marriage proponents "can certainly rely on this opinion ... to say, 'here's one more voice of respect in the United States saying that same-sex marriage should be recognized on an equal basis as heterosexual marriage."

Jamin Raskin, a constitutional law professor at the American University, agreed, saying Kennedy's opinion "definitely shifts the moral high ground to the pro-marriage forces." But he added that Kennedy's opinion - with Justice Antonin Scalia's "caustic" dissent, also deepens the divide between the pro- and anti-gay marriage movements.

"We saw the culture war today alive and well in the Supreme Court," Raskin said.

While President Obama cheered the Supreme Court's ruling, the historic decision puts even more pressure on the White House to call for all states to recognize same-sex nuptials. Obama continued to toe the line Wednesday, declining to frame gay marriage as a fundamental right but rather something that states -- and religious institutions -- would continue to define.

Attorney General Eric Holder said the president instructed him to "expeditiously" implement the high court's decision. But Holder added that despite "this momentous victory, our nation's journey - towards equality, opportunity, and justice for everyone in this country - is far from over."

White House Correspondent Brian Hughes contributed to this report.

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Sean Lengell

Congressional Correspondent
The Washington Examiner