2013 June 26

Same-Sex Marriage Victory: Supreme Court Declares DOMA Unconstitutional


In United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court on this day struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act DOMA). Section 3 of the act, which dealt with federal recognition of gay marriage, was ruled unconstitutional. The Supreme Court case did not, however, challenge Section 2 of DOMA, which declares that all states have the right to deny recognition of the marriage of same sex couples.

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer were a same-sex couple who had been together for 40 years and were legally married in Canada in 2007. When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor, as her heir, faced an inheritance tax bill of $363,053, which she would not have had to pay if they had been legally married in the eyes of the U.S. government.

The political context of the Court’s decision was a sea change in public attitudes toward same-sex relationships and same-sex marriage since DOMA was passed in 1996. By early 2014, seventeen states and the District of Columbia had legalized same-sex marriage, either by court decision or legislative enactment. And, in fact, President Barack Obama’s administration had declined to defend DOMA in the Windsor case (February 23, 2011).

In the year following the Windsor decision, federal courts in a number of states declared state prohibitions on same-sex marriage to be unconstitutional.  A Supreme Court case regarding these decisions seemed inevitable.

On June 26, 2015, in Obergefell v. Hudson, the Supreme Court declared that same-sex marriage was constitutional in the entire United States under the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.

By weird coincidence, the Supreme Court’s three key decisions on homosexuality were all decided on June 26th: Lawrence v. Texas (June 26, 2003), today’s Windsor v. New York, and Obergefell v. Hodges, (June 26. 2015).

Justice Anthony Kennedy for the Court: “DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. 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. 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 [emphasis added]. This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages.”

Watch Edie Windsor discuss her historic victory in the Supreme Court: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=blcHIfTkHRs

Read about the history of the GLBT revolution: Lillian Faderman, The Gay Revolution: The Story of the Struggle (2015)

Watch part of a documentary about Edie Windsor and her spouse Thea Spyer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CffEbrF2gw8

See the entire documentary about their marriage: Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement (2009)

Read: David Boies and Theodore Olson, Redeeming the Dream: The Case for Marriage Equality (2014)

Learn more at a timeline on same-sex marriagehttp://www.freedomtomarry.org/pages/history-and-timeline-of-marriage

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