The U.S. Supreme Court's vote to strike down provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and its ruling against supporters of a ban on gay marriage in California is part of a growing trend that seems to make it increasingly difficult for traditionalists to fight their cause.
Christian leaders and pundits have reacted to the decisions Wednesday in a wide variety of ways reflecting the divisions over the issue that exist in the United States despite a growing tendency to accept same-sex marriage.
Some conservatives expressed disappointment, while others said they see the rulings as limited in scope and were hopeful about the future of traditional marriage, saying they will fight on.
On the other hand, liberals are celebrating the Supreme Court decisions as a step in the right direction.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, in his majority opinion in the case of United States v. Windsor, wrote that DOMA violated "basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the federal government."
Kennedy was the swing vote in a 5-4 decision by the court, reflecting the tight call on the issues legally and as far as national opinions go.
PUBLIC RELIGION RESEARCH INSTITUTE
In April the Public Religion Research Institute found that for the first time a majority of Americans (52 percent) of Americans favored allowing gay and lesbian couples to marry legally, compared to 42 percent who were opposed.
DOMA denies federal benefits to gays who are legally married in states that allow same-sex unions. The Supreme Court ruling means the federal government must now recognize these marriages and make its benefits available to same-sex couples.
The California case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, involved the state's ban on same-sex marriage, called Proposition 8. Californians had voted for the measure in 2008 after the California Supreme Court ruled that same-sex marriages were legal.
State officials did not defend the law when lower courts declared it unconstitutional. The U.S. Supreme Court in its ruling determined that the advocates of Proposition 8 who took on its defense lacked the standing to do so.
California Gov. Jerry Brown has now directed state officials to resume issuing marriage licenses for same-sex couples.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement decrying the Supreme Court rulings.
CARDINAL TIMOTHY DOLAN
Led by Cardinal Timothy Dolan and Salvatore Cordileone, they called the decision on DOMA "tragic" and also lamented the failure of the court to rule on Proposition 8.
"Today is a tragic day for marriage and our nation," the statement said.
"The Supreme Court has dealt a profound injustice to the American people by striking down in part the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Court got it wrong."
The Catholic bishops also said it was "unfortunate that the Court did not take the opportunity to uphold California's Proposition 8 but instead decided not to rule on the matter.
"The common good of all, especially our children, depends on a society that strives to uphold the truth of marriage."
Tony Perkins, president of the conservative Family Research Council issued a statement on the organization's website against the Supreme Court's action, but he also wrote that he was encouraged that the justices did not take the same kind of social action which legalized abortion in the 1970s..
"While we are disappointed in the Supreme Court's decision to strike down part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the court today did not impose the sweeping nationwide redefinition of natural marriage that was sought," he said.
"Time is not on the side of those seeking to create same-sex 'marriage.' As the American people are given time to experience the actual consequences of redefining marriage, the public debate and opposition to the redefinition of natural marriage will undoubtedly intensify."
However, Perkins said he was "disturbed" that the court refused to acknowledge that the supporters of Proposition 8 did not have standing to defend it.
He said the ruling "distorted the balance of powers" of government because it allows for the executive branch to veto a law simply by not defending it.
Focus on the Family President Jim Daly also expressed disappointment over the rulings, according to Christianity Today (CT). He said, however, that Christians should not despair but should rather "see new opportunity to shine light into a confused culture."
The Ecumenical Catholic Communion (ECC), an independent church which is not in communion with the Holy See of Rome but follows Catholic tradition, expressed support for the Supreme Court decision concerning DOMA and Proposition 8.
Bishop Peter Hickman, Presiding Bishop of the ECC, said, "We applaud the Court for taking these courageous steps, and look forward to the changes which these decisions will bring about in our society."
"While these rulings are very positive steps forward, they are only two steps in the long process of establishing equal rights and protections for all," he said. "Currently, same sex couples are allowed to legally marry in only a handful of our states. We must continue the efforts to bring full equality for all in each state."
STATES LEGALIZING GAY MARRIAGE
Twelve of the 50 states and Washington, D.C. have legalized gay marriage.
President Barack Obama, who once opposed same-sex marriage, but now supports it, issued a statement applauding the Supreme Court decisions.
While he said he welcomed the rulings, he also addressed people of faith who might have qualms about the decisions.
"On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation's commitment to religious freedom is also vita," said Obama.
"How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions. Nothing about this decision -- which applies only to civil marriages -- changes that."