WASHINGTON, D.C.: In a landmark ruling for gay rights, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled today Wednesday by a 5-4 vote that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples, is unconstitutional.
“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
Justice Kennedy delivered the court’s opinion. He was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito all filed dissenting opinions.
In a separate case, the court ruled that it could not take up a challenge to Proposition 8, the California law that banned gay marriage in that state. That decision means that gay marriage will once again be legal in California. That decision was also 5-4, written by Chief Justice John Roberts.
Scalia, in his dissent, wrote: “We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. The Court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseased root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America.”
The Defense of Marriage Act, signed by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, bars the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages legalized by the states. According to this act, same-sex couples whose marriages are recognized by their home states from can be denied from receiving benefits (Social Security benefits or the ability to file joint returns, for example) that are available to other married couples under federal law.
During the Obama administration, the Justice Department initially defended DOMA in court despite the administration’s desire to repeal it. But in early 2011 the Justice Department took the reverse direction, finding that the law was unconstitutional and declining to defend it any longer. House Republicans have fought hard and spent great resources to take over that defense.
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, commented in a prepared statement: “The Supreme Court has issued two rulings for freedom and fairness today. Striking down the heart of DOMA, the justices have affirmed that all married couples are equal, ending the ‘gay exception’ that relegated same-sex couples to second-class status for too long. Married couples – gay or non-gay – should be treated as what they are: married. And the ruling on Prop 8 ends marriage discrimination in California, meaning that nearly a third of Americans now live in a state with the freedom to marry. This is truly a day of celebration for loving and committed same-sex couples and their families – and for all of us who believe in the American journey to equality under the law and the pursuit of happiness, with liberty and justice for all.”
Gay rights groups in the U.S. say that with the mortal blow dealt to DOMA, the next step is to move forward. Wolfson added that with California now joining 12 other states where gay marriage is legal, Freedom to Marry will continue working our winning strategy: winning more states, fully overturning DOMA to end federal marriage discrimination, and continuing to grow the national majority for marriage. Before long we will be ready to go back before the Supreme Court and win the freedom to marry nationwide.”
Kevin Cathcart, executive director of Lambda Legal said, “Much remains to be worked out regarding the end of DOMA. There are questions, for example, about the rights of same-sex couples who live in states where their marriages aren’t recognized. Lambda Legal and our colleagues at other LGBT organizations will take action to clarify matters and seek broad recognition of our marriages. And our legal experts will soon be answering all questions regarding today’s decision.”
Nathan M. Schaefer, executive director of Empire State Pride Agenda, was also elated by the decision but expressed concern about other LGBTQ issues. “Here in New York State, the heartbreaking decision early Saturday by Senate leadership to prevent the Gender Expression Non-Discrimination Act (GENDA) from coming up for a vote has only strengthened our commitment to full equality and justice for LGBT New Yorkers and our families,” Schaefer said. “We remain confident that one day all LGB and T people will have their rights protected throughout the country – and we won’t stop fighting until they do.”
Meanwhile, in a depressingly exploitative move, advocacy groups like GLAAD and Courage Campaign have sent out email blasts barely 10 minutes after the Supreme Court double decisions were made, asking for check donations and money.
DOMA was challenged by Edith Windsor who lived with her partner Thea Spyer in New York for more than four decades. They finally married in 2007. When Spyer died in 2009, she left Windsor her estate. Even though the state of New York recognized their marriage, DOMA didn’t, so the IRS hit Windsor with $363,053 in estate taxes.
- Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, clears way for Calif. gay marriage (suntimes.com)
- Supreme Court rules DOMA unconstitutional (king5.com)
- Gay marriage ruling: Supreme Court finds DOMA unconstitutional – Los Angeles Times (latimes.com)
- U.S. Supreme Court Allows Calif. Same-Sex Marriage To Resume, Rules DOMA Unconstitutional (losangeles.cbslocal.com)
- Supreme Court: Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional (kvue.com)
- Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA, Clears Way For Same-Sex Unions In Calif. (baltimore.cbslocal.com)
- Supreme Court gay marriage ruling: Justices strike down part of Defense of Marriage Act (oregonlive.com)
- Supreme Court Strikes Down Defense Of Marriage Act (wibw.com)
- BREAKING: High court strikes down federal marriage provision (khou.com)