Factbox: Major Supreme Court decisions on gay rights

Wed Jun 26, 2013 3:24pm EDT
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(Reuters) - The U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a key part of a federal law, the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, that denied benefits to same-sex married couples, and let stand a lower-court ruling throwing out California's voter-approved ban on gay marriage.

It had been a decade since the court last took up a gay-rights dispute. That 2003 case from Texas and the court's two earlier gay-rights decisions were closely fought and produced strong dissenting opinions.

In a lesser known case, the 1972 Baker v. Nelson, the court summarily dismissed an appeal against a Minnesota Supreme Court decision upholding a law that restricted marriage to opposite-sex couples. The U.S. Supreme Court wrote no opinion and said only that the matter lacked a "substantial federal question." Opponents of same-sex marriage have cited that court action to bolster their position, but lower courts that have ruled on the matter have not found it determinative.

Here is how the justices divided in past major cases:

* Bowers v. Hardwick, 1986

Facts: Michael Hardwick was arrested for engaging in intimate sexual conduct with another man in Hardwick's Atlanta home, violating a Georgia ban on oral and anal sex for homosexual and heterosexual couples. The charges against Hardwick were dropped, but he challenged the sodomy prohibition as unconstitutional when enforced against same-sex relations.

Supreme Court vote: 5-4 to uphold the law

Majority: In an opinion by Justice Byron White, the court said no right to privacy existed for homosexual relations. White emphasized that "proscriptions against that conduct have ancient roots" and said legislatures often pass laws "based on notions of morality." The court spurned Hardwick's claim that intimate conduct in a private home should not be subject to criminal law. "Victimless crimes, such as the possession and use of illegal drugs, do not escape the law where they are committed at home," White wrote, joined by Chief Justice Warren Burger and Justices Lewis Powell, William Rehnquist and Sandra Day O'Connor.

Dissent: Justice Harry Blackmun said the Georgia law wrongly denied gay men and women choices about their private, consensual activities. "This case involves no real interference with the rights of others, for the mere knowledge that other individuals do not adhere to one's value system cannot be a legally cognizable interest, let alone an interest that can justify invading the houses, hearts, and minds of citizens who choose to live their lives differently," Blackmun wrote, joined by Justices William Brennan, Thurgood Marshall and John Paul Stevens.   Continued...