On June 26, thousands sat glued to some form of media-streaming screen awaiting the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8. Both dealt with the rights of same-sex couples, and both were particularly controversial. DOMA was ruled unconstitutional, as many expected, and Justice Scalia authored a rage-fueled dissent comparable in caliber to “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” (also as many expected). And the less exciting ruling was the one issued for Proposition 8, California’s Constitutional amendment that eliminated same-sex couples’ right to marry. Dismissed for lack of standing? Most see this as anti-climactic, but opponents of Proposition 8 are relieved to say the least. Proposition 8’s tumultuous history of litigation aided the Supreme Court in the decision.
In 2008, the California Supreme Court held that limiting marriages to opposite-sex couples was unconstitutional. California barely had the chance to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples before a Proposition 8 was passed in November of that year.
In 2010, the landmark case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger was heard in Federal District Court. That court held that Proposition 8 violated the Due Process Clause of the constitution because there was no compelling state interest justifying the denial of same-sex couples the fundamental right of marriage. After a lack of standing, and therefore an unsuccessful appeal in the California Supreme Court, the case was heard in the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals and Proposition 8 was again said to be unconstitutional. The final push to the United States Supreme Court was also unsuccessful, due to a lack of constitutional standing to defend the law in federal court.
So what does standing even mean? Standing is the legally protectable stake or interest that an individual has in a dispute that entitles him to bring the case to court. The standing requirement emanates from Article III of the Constitution which extends federal judicial power to cases and controversies. A case or controversy is a real and substantial dispute that touches the legal relations of parties having adverse interests and that can be resolved by a judicial decree of a conclusive character.
The key element of standing is the requirement of a particularized interest to create a case or controversy, and this point was highlighted in Chief Justice Roberts’ opinion this past June on Proposition 8’s standing. Since the District Court “had not ordered them to do or refrain from doing anything,” the proponents of proposition 8 did not have a direct stake in the outcome of their appeal. Simply put, the defenders of Proposition 8 experienced no personal or tangible harm by the lower court’s decision.
The advocates behind Proposition 8 are probably writhing at this decision and will likely continue to challenge it. For right now, however, California has resumed issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples and the horizon for them seems very bright.