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The U.S. Supreme Court recently made two landmark rulings on same-sex marriage. The first was a 5-4 decision ruling the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional. Known as DOMA, the act defined marriage as the union of one man and one woman under federal law. The act affected benefits at the federal level and allowed states to not recognize same-sex marriages performed in states that permitted them — in 1996, no state permitted same-sex marriage.

The United States Supreme Court, top row left to right, Justice Sonia Sotomayor, Justice Stephen G. Breyer, Justice Samuel A. Alito and Justice Elena Kagan. Bottom row (left to right):  Justice Clarence Thomas,  Justice Antonin Scalia, Chief Justice John G. Roberts,  Justice Anthony Kennedy and  Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.The ruling does not require Arizona or any other state to legalize nor recognize same-sex marriage. It does bestow federal rights of marriage, namely military, health care and Social Security benefits, hospital visitation rights to same-sex couples, and the right to file joint tax returns.

The ruling also restored domestic partner benefits to Arizona’s state employees, which the Legislature tried to eliminate after the recession. Last week, the high court declined Gov. Jan Brewer’s request to lift an injunction on the legislation.

News Editor Christopher Fox GrahamIn 2013, nine states and the District of Columbia permit same-sex marriage through legislation, popular votes or court rulings. Three more have passed legislation that will go into effect by Thursday, Aug. 1. Another six states have variations on civil unions that effectively grant the same rights as marriage, albeit under a different name.

Although few in number, these more populous states permit same-sex marriages or unions, allowing more than 41 percent of their population some form of same-sex marriage.

Conversely, 31 other states have constitutional or statutory bans on same-sex marriage. Arizona voters passed a constitutional amendment in 2008.

Although called a landmark decision, the court’s ruling really just returns back to the states a power they had until DOMA usurped it in 1996. Until DOMA redefined marriage in stark terms, the rules of marriage have always been up to state governments to decide.

State laws reflect the culture of the residents who live in them. For instance, states issue marriage licenses and determine the minimum age couples can marry — 18 in Arizona and most states, 19 in Nebraska and 21 in Mississippi. Couples can be as young as 15 in some states with parental consent or a court order.

But the tide is changing perhaps faster than any other civil rights issue in modern history.

Americans in support of same-sex marriage have risen from 27 percent in 1996 to 55 percent in 2013, according to the USA Today/Gallup Poll. Of those 31 states with bans, Arizona now ranks fourth in support of same-sex marriage. A May 14 poll by the Behavior Research Center showed when Arizonans were asked “Do you favor or oppose allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry?” 55 percent were now in favor, 35 percent were opposed and 10 percent were unsure. Arizona’s support is notably higher than more traditionally liberal states like Illinois, Colorado, Pennsylvania and Oregon.

Among U.S. senators, 54 have declared support for same-sex marriage or civil unions. Since 2000, 14 countries have legalized same-sex marriage.

On its second ruling concerning California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage already passed by voters, the Supreme Court stopped short of declaring a ban on same-sex unions unconstitutional nationwide. It ruled the plaintiffs had insufficient merit to bring the case to the court. The ruling effectively punted the question rather than ruling in favor of anyone, leaving it up to the individual states to chart their own courses.

In 2011, Sedona was ranked No. 4 among places per capita where same-sex couples choose to live in Arizona. Only time will tell if and when Sedona becomes a place for the state’s same-sex couples to celebrate their nuptials too.

Christopher Fox Graham

News Editor


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