Supreme Court strikes down part of DOMA and Prop 8
(CNN) — Same-sex marriage can resume in California — that’s the result of the Supreme Court ruling just in that dismisses an appeal regarding California’s Proposition 8.
From our colleague Bill Mears:
The Supreme Court has dismissed a closely watched appeal over same-sex marriage on jurisdictional grounds, ruling Wednesday that private parties do not have “standing” to defend California’s voter-approved ballot measure barring gay and lesbians couples from state-sanctioned wedlock. The ruling permits same-sex couples in California to legally marry. The 5-4 decision avoids for now a sweeping conclusion on whether same-sex marriage is a constitutionally protected “equal protection” right that would apply to all states. The case is Hollingsworth v. Perry (12-144).
The Supreme Court has struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act, ruling in a 5-4 decision that same-sex spouses legally married in a state may receive federal benefits.
The case examines whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can legally marry. At issue is whether DOMA violates equal protection guarantees in the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause as applied to same-sex couples legally married under the laws of their states.
The key plaintiff is Edith “Edie” Windsor, 84, who married fellow New York resident Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007, about 40 years into their relationship. By the time Spyer died in 2009, New York courts recognized same-sex marriages performed in other countries. But the federal government didn’t recognize Windsor’s same-sex marriage, and she was forced to assume an estate tax bill much larger than those that other married couples would have to pay. So, Windsor sued the federal government.
A federal appeals court last year ruled in Windsor’s favor, saying DOMA violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
CNN Supreme Court producer Bill Mears writes that DOMA, passed in 1996, defines marriage as between one man and one woman for federal purposes, like taxes. “That means the estimated 120,000 gay and lesbian couples legally married in nine states and the District of Columbia are still considered — in the eyes of DOMA opponents — the equivalent of girlfriend and boyfriend.”
That meant that Edie Windsor faced a hefty bill for inheritance taxes when her partner of 42 years died. She claimed in court that she had had to pay $363,053 more than if her spouse, Thea Spyer, had been a man.
But Mears points out that the DOMA issue is more than just a financial question:
“The larger debate over DOMA’s intent and impact 17 years after passage has driven a wedge between the executive and legislative branches.
“At issue is what role the federal government should play when it comes to marriage – something states have traditionally controlled.”
Family Research Council President Tony Perkins released a statement saying that his group was “disappointed” in the DOMA ruling and “disturbed” by the detail of the Proposition 8 decision but that it also took some heart from the Supreme Court’s actions.
“Their refusal to redefine marriage for all states is a major setback for those seeking to redefine natural marriage,” he said. “Time is not on the side of those seeking to create same-sex ‘marriage.’ As the American people are given time to experience the actual consequences of redefining marriage, the public debate and opposition to the redefinition of natural marriage will undoubtedly intensify.”
He concluded: “What is inevitable is that the male and female relationship will continue to be uniquely important to the future of society. The reality is that society needs children, and children need a mom and a dad. We will continue to work to restore and promote a healthy marriage culture, which will maximize the chances of a child being raised by a married mother and father.”
The Human Rights Campaign, which has pushed for LGBT equality, is declaring two “monumental victories.” Here’s the top of the group’s statement:
“In recent years, California’s Proposition 8 and the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act became symbols of anti-LGBT discrimination around the country and around the world. Today, both crumbled.
“In a watershed moment in the fight for equality, the United States Supreme Court today ruled to return marriage equality to California and to strike down DOMA. The court ruled in the Prop 8 case on procedural grounds, not reaching a decision on the merits of Prop 8 or the broader question of whether the Constitution guarantees the fundamental right to marry the person you love.
“Marriages in California are expected to begin again soon. While a joyous milestone, these victories nonetheless throw into sharp relief the uneven progress for LGBT people around the country — a landscape where states like California are rapidly advancing toward equality, but progress in many other places remains stagnant.”