The supreme court, in a pair of twin rulings last week, came down modestly on the side of gay rights but stopped short of overriding public opinion in two important ways of advancing a political agenda from the bench.
The first ruling, by a 5-4 majority (which seems to be the norm for the last 30 years in decisions of a controversial nature) struck down the provision of the Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes. This means that legally married gay couples in states that permit gay marriage now have access to federal deductions and benefits associated with being married, rights previous denied to them under DOMA. The reasoning of the court was two-fold - first, a traditional conservative argument around federalism that essentially stated that definition of marriage has been historically the province of states and that on 10th amendment grounds there was no enumerated power for the federal government to overrule state judgement on that issue. Interestingly it was 4 liberal judges joined by moderate opinion-writer Anthony Kennedy that overruled 4 conservatives on what would seem to be a judicially conservative view but for the social politics around gay rights.
The tenth amendment text in question is as follows:
The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.
The second reason given by Kennedy's opinion, and perhaps the more intriguing one, was the notion that the clause in question violated the equal protection principle articulated in the 14th amendment. This is a fascinating argument, as the 14th amendment is clearly targeted at state laws. Text is below:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.