Same-sex Marriage Granted Federal Government Recognition, while California's Prop 8 Suit Dismissed. Dismissal Clears Way for Same-Sex Marriage in Golden State
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled yesterday that same-sex married couples are entitled to federal benefits, striking down section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment and granting full federal recognition of same-sex marriage. The Court's ruling on Windsor v. the United States, delivered by Justice Kennedy, establishes that same-sex couples married in states where it is legal will receive the Social Security, tax, federal health and other benefits that heterosexual couples receive.
“What has been explained to this point should more than suffice to establish that the principal purpose and the necessary effect of this law are to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage. This requires the Court to hold, as it now does, that DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person,” wrote Kennedy.
Withholding federal recognition of same-sex married couples places them “in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage,” Kennedy wrote. “The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects . . . and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify.”
Further, Kennedy wrote that the denial of such federal recognition under DOMA "humiliates the tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples."
Justice Kennedy was joined in the majority by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan.
The ruling did not grant a constitutional right to same-sex marriage and therefore does not directly affect state bans on same-sex marriage nor require states with such bans to recognize same-sex marriages performed in other states. However, it is likely that this ruling will bolster future constitutional challenges to state bans on same-sex marriage.
Windsor v. the United States specifically concerns 83-year-old Edith Windsor of New York, who sued to challenge a $363,000 federal estate tax bill after her partner of 44 years died in 2009. Windsor married Thea Spyer in 2007 after doctors told them Spyer would not live much longer. She suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years. Spyer left everything she had to Windsor.
Windsor would have paid nothing in inheritance taxes if she had been married to a man.
The Supreme Court's non-ruling on California's Proposition 8 (Hollingsworth v. Perry), which wrote a same-sex marriage ban into the state constitution, lets stand a federal district ruling by Judge Vaughn Walker from August of 2010 that held Prop 8 unconstitutional under the Fourteenth Amendment.
The Supreme Court yesterday held that the sponsors of Prop 8 did not have legal standing to appeal the case. This means the case returns to California where Governor Jerry Brown already has stated that he intends to enforce Judge Walker's ruling from 2010 and allow same-sex marriages to resume, possibly as soon as next month.
The Los Angeles Times has a decent step-by-step explanation of the legal basis by which the Supreme Court refused to rule on the Prop 8 here.
For more background and analysis see:
Full Los Angeles Times Coverage (including a very good timeline on Prop 8)
The Supreme Court Kills the 'Gay Marriage is Bad for Kids' Argument (Philip Cohen, The Atlantic)
Will the DOMA Decision Kill Gay Marriage Bans? (Washington Post)
How Edith Windsor Learned She Won (New Yorker)
Justice Scalia's Blistering Dissent on DOMA (The Atlantic)
Ban on Gay Marriage Overturned (Los Angeles Times article from 2010 on Judge Walker's decision ruling overturning Prop 8).