Ding Dong, DOMA is Dead!

rr-ding-dong_witch-hatToday the Supreme Court made gay rights history by striking down part of a 1996 law referred to as the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA.) Why is this so important to the gay rights battle?

Today’s actions by the Supreme Court mean:

  • DOMA’s Section 3, which defined “marriage” (for the purpose of interpreting implications of federal laws as they apply to married couples in the United States) as the union of one man and one woman (with no exceptions) as unconstitutional. This affects the applications of thousands of federal laws to married same-sex couples.
  • The sponsors of California’s Proposition 8 will not have the legal right to participate in federal appeals court to defend Proposition 8 from constitutional attack. This makes it more likely that Proposition 8 will be struck down, meaning same sex couples will once again be able to marry in California.
  • Made clear that DOMA Section 3 was considered a violation of the EPC or Equal Protect Clause, a clause that provides all American citizens equal protection of rights as determined by law.

Unfortunately, the ruling did not:

  • Address Section 2 of DOMA, which enables states to refuse to recognize (as married) same-sex couples that have gotten married in other states. This means that a same-sex couple that gets married in Massachusetts and receives benefits in Massachusetts might move to a state like North Carolina and then no longer be recognized (by that state) as married. This would affect the receipt of benefits for married couples as distributed by that particular state.
  • Explicitly help sort out the problems married same-sex couples may have with getting benefits when living in states that do not allow or honor same-sex marriages performed in other states.

Impact of the Supreme Court’s Ruling on DOMA Today, June 26, 2013

This case was prompted by the case of United States v. Windsor in which Edith Windsor sued the United States for taxes she paid on her wife’s estate. Edith Windsor had married Thea Spyer in a legal same-sex marriage ceremony in Canada back in the year 2007. The couple moved to the United States. Spyer passed away in 2009, leaving her estate to Windsor, but Windsor was not allowed the benefit of estate tax exemption provided to heterosexual couples. Her claim was denied due to the application of Section 3 of DOMA, which defined marriage as being only between a man and a woman and therefore disqualified her for estate tax exemption.

As a result of today’s ruling, the following will change:

  • The US government will have to reimburse Windsor for the extra taxes she paid on the estate.
  • Married same-sex couples will have access to benefits traditionally extended only to heterosexual couples such as health care benefits.
  • Married same-sex couples will now be extended equal rights coverage as provided under the Fifth Amendment.

This last point is most important of all. This precedent, citing the Fifth Amendment, may provide enough momentum to press the assault on state laws that discriminate against couples on the basis of sexual orientation.

Why This Matters to Me:

I’m excited that that Section 3 of DOMA is dead because this means our country is one step closer to honoring equal rights for same sex couples across the nation.

Whoo hoo! Go Supreme Court Justices!