US Supreme Court rules Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional

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Thursday, June 27, 2013

Cameras lined up outside the Supreme Court in preparation for the release of the DOMA case yesterday.
Image: bclinesmith.

In a ruling released yesterday, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled 5–4 that portions of Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) are unconstitutional and married same-sex partners should not be prevented from receiving federal benefits including tax and social security benefits, and recognition for the purpose of immigration.

In the majority decision, Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote: "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." Kennedy said DOMA "writes inequality into the entire United States Code".

Anthony Kennedy wrote the majority decision in the DOMA case.
Image: Supreme Court of the United States.

The case was brought by 84-year-old Edith Windsor, who was married to Thea Speyer. The State of New York recognised their marriage, but following Speyer's death, Windsor had to pay more than US$300,000 in inheritance tax.

In addition to a decision on the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court also ruled on a case brought by supporters of Proposition 8 in California, a ballot measure which made same-sex marriage illegal in 2008. The resulting same-sex marriage ban was challenged in the court and a lower court held that the measure was incompatible with the US Constitution. The Supreme Court rejected an appeal by supporters of Proposition 8, arguing they do not have standing to defend in court a law the State of California is unwilling to defend. Therefore the lower court decision holds. California Governor Jerry Brown said: "I have directed the California Department of Public Health to advise the state's counties they must begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples in California as soon as the Ninth Circuit confirms the stay is lifted".

President Barack Obama welcomed the decisions: "When all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free." Obama instructed Eric Holder, the US attorney general, to ensure the ruling is implemented in federal law.

Anthony Romero from the American Civil Liberties Union said the fight for same-sex marriage rights would now return to the states. Chad Griffin from the Human Rights Campaign, an LGBT rights organization, pledged: "Within five years, we will bring marriage equality to all 50 states."

People celebrating the Supreme Court gay marriage decision.
Image: Neon Tommy.

A number of opponents of same-sex marriage have voiced their opinions on the Supreme Court decision. Michele Bachmann, a Republican congresswoman from Minnesota, stated: "Marriage was created by the hand of God. No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted. For thousands of years of recorded human history, no society has defended the legal standard of marriage as anything other than between man and woman. Only since 2000 have we seen a redefinition of this foundational unit of society in various nations."

Bachmann went on: "Today, the U.S. Supreme Court decided to join the trend, despite the clear will of the people’s representatives through DOMA. What the court has done will undermine the best interest of children and the best interests of the United States."

Kansas Congressman Tim Huelskamp said the "courts have allowed the desires of adults to trump the needs of our children".


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