In the United States v. Windsor, the Court overturned the part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed during the Clinton Administration (and signed into law by then-President Clinton), that did not permit same-sex couples married in states that legally recognize these unions as marriages (i.e., Washington, now-California, more on that in a minute, Minnesota, Iowa, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island,and the District of Columbia), to claim spousal Social Security Benefits, to file federal taxes returns jointly, and a few other benefits reserved by the federal government to married couples.
As far as Caifornia's Proposition 8, a popularly enacted ballot measure that amended that state's constitution to define marriage as between one man and one woman, the Court simply ruled that the defendants in Hollingsworth v. Perry had no standing to file suit, which means that the lower District court ruling, which declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional on the basis of the equal protection clause of the U.S. constitution's fourteenth amendment, to stand. This can in no way be taken to mean that the Supreme Court agrees with the lower court ruling. It does mean that California is now one of the states that grants the same legal recognition to same-sex unions as it does marriages.
I think giving a quick synopsis of what happened and what the immediate consequences are helps to keep things in perspective. Not knowing what will come of this legally, societally, or culturally, I do not want to underestimate or overestimate the effects of today's decision and non-decision.
I agree with His Eminence, Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, who serves as President of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), writing on behalf of the USCCB, that today's rulings lead us one step closer to a society in which true marriage, an already unstable institution, due to the poor way it has been lived by far too many men and women, including many Christians, becomes endangered (if everything counts as marriage, nothing counts as marriage, as the title of the USCCB's website, Marriage: Unique for a Reason, implies):
When Jesus taught about the meaning of marriage – the lifelong, exclusive union of husband and wife – he pointed back to “the beginning” of God’s creation of the human person as male and female (see Matthew [19:1-12 and Mark 10:12- I added what it is brackets]). In the face of the customs and laws of his time, Jesus taught an unpopular truth that everyone could understand. The truth of marriage endures, and we will continue to boldly proclaim it with confidence and charityIn addition defining of marriage as between one man and one woman, by pointing to what I call the Bible's ur verse on marriage (i.e., Genesis 2:24), in these passages our Lord also issues a correction to those who, while holding to the sexual complementarity required by marriage, reject its indissoluble nature, if not in theory, then at least in practice.
As Catholics, this also hits on the matter at stake in the HHS mandate, namely contraception. This is the discussion that leads to understanding marriage on the basis of nature and not on revelation alone.
At a Communion and Liberation Diakonia several years ago (back when I was a practicing member), I remember Fr. Carrón saying something to the effect that it doesn't matter if you have the perfect doctrine of marriage if you don't live it. It is true that living out the sacrament of marriage is difficult, it's hard. In most marriages it is easy to come up with reasons to call it quits, to revoke the consent you gave the day you were married, employing reasoning like, "If I would've known it was going to be like this I never would have gotten married!" Because it precludes giving in to inertia (i.e., not knowing what else you would do) and economic concerns (i.e., not knowing how you would get by) you can't live out the sacrament of marriage without God's grace, especially when one considers that Christian marriage means making visibly and tangibly present in and for the world the relationship of Christ to His Bride, the Church- talk about a husband with understandable grounds for divorce!
As I posted on Facebook, "Today and every day we must constantly pose to ourselves the question, In what, or, more specifically, in whom, do I place my hope?" It is certainly not in the state, or any state institution. The Church, after all, has survived the rise and fall of many nations. Perhaps it is a bit more urgent to ask ourselves if we can follow Christ without the robust support of the state. We know that the Supreme Court has no power to change to the truth concerning marriage, but do we have the courage, or, more precisely, the hope to live it as an eschatological sign of the reign of God.