In establishing two same-sex marriage milestones this week, the U.S. Supreme Court affirmed the rights of a class of citizens who have long borne second-class status and suffered discriminatory practices.
In one, the divided court established the right to a variety of federal benefits for married gay couples, striking down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act.
In the other, also decided in a 5-4 ruling, justices overturned California's voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage. The Proposition 8 ballot initiative invalidated a state law permitting gay marriage. But the decision does not apply to other states -- including Florida, which passed a constitutional ban on gay marriage in 2008.
With public opinion surveys revealing an ever-growing majority of Americans in support of marriage equality for gays and lesbians, Justice Anthony Kennedy struck a chord in writing this: "DOMA's principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal."
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A dozen states and the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriage, and California will, too, as soon as the ruling is sanctioned.
The two pivotal rulings are not a complete victory for proponents of same-sex marriage. Neither one establishes a constitutional right to marriage for gay and lesbian couples.
The justices decided California's case on a technicality, essentially allowing lower court rulings that struck down Proposition 9's ban on gay marriage to stand.
In the decision on DOMA, justices found the 1996 federal law violated the U.S. Constitution. The decision allows couples in states that permit same-sex marriage to receive hundreds of federal benefits. That, however, leaves couples married in those states who move to places like Florida with eligibility problems on many benefits.
While the historic rulings do not completely clear the air on same-sex marriage issues, the nation is quickly shifting toward acceptance and equitable treatment. A Pew Research Center poll found 72 percent of Americans -- even a majority of those opposed to gay marriage -- thought
legal recognition was "inevitable."
Just since March, three states approved same-sex marriage, joining a number of others that passed new laws in the past year.
The nation has reached a tipping point with the issue of equality under the law superseding all others. The Supreme Court's two historic rulings are welcome developments that affirm that priority.
Florida voters should take that stand and join the fledgling movement to repeal the state's constitutional ban on gay marriage.