Supreme Court rules DOMA unconstitutional in 5-4 decision

Mark Fischer

When Minnesota same-sex couples start getting married on August 1, they'll have the same status on the federal level as all other couples.

As reported by SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court ruled 5 - 4 today that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which federally defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, is unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment, in the case of United States v. Windsor.

Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the case; Justices Roberts, Scalia and Alito wrote dissenting opinions.

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The case was brought by Edie Windsor, who lives in New York. In 2007, she married her partner of 40 years, Thea Spyer, in Toronto, Canada. Speyer died two years later from complications of multiple sclerosis. Though the state of New York recognized their marriage as valid at the time, the federal government, under DOMA, did not. Windsor was legally obligated to pay federal estate taxes on her wife's inheritance that she would not have had to pay if she was married to a man, since inheritance from spouses is not taxed on the federal level.

The suit argued that section three of DOMA, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman for all federal purposes -- which include Social Security survivors' benefits, immigration regulations, filing joint federal tax returns, and benefits to federal employees -- is unconstitutional.

Here's section three of DOMA:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

The court ruled today that this is unconstitutional "as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment." Though this does not change laws on marriage in any state, it does allow married same sex couples the same standing on a federal level as opposite sex ones.

Here's the opinion.

This is a big day for marriage equality. In addition to DOMA, Proposition 8, the infamous referendum that banned same-sex marriage in California, will remain unconstitutional, as decided by a district court in California. The court ruled 5-4 that the petitioners lacked the grounds to appeal the earlier decision.

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As I predicted would happen. As swmnguy stated, it was a pretty easy call.

swmnguy topcommenter

As I've been saying (at great length, I know) since this issue started coming to the forefront, this is actually a very simple decision under law.  You can't create a group of people for the purpose of denying them rights extended to everyone else.  It's uncontitutional, and more; it goes way back to the Magna Carta.

No matter how fancy and cute the wording of these bans on same-sex marriage, the purpose of all the laws is obvious.  And it's unconstitutional.  The DOMA had the added unconstitutionality of unlawfully preventing the states from enforcing the own Equal Protection clauses in their own constitutions.

As for the Prop 8 case, that was a very narrow decision.  It just said that the group (mostly funded by the Mormon and Catholic churches, and some very wealthy zealots) didn't have standing to defend Prop 8 in court, even though the California Attorney General declined to defend Prop 8 in court.  It wasn't any of that group's damned business, by law.  The effect of the ruling is a big deal; Prop 8 remains struck down so same-sex marriage remains legal in California and will now be resumed.  But there's no new point of law here and it doesn't effect the bans in other states.

However, the noose is tightening on these bans.  The legal framework is very clear.  It's unconstitutional.  As soon as the right case, asking the right question, gets to the Supreme Court, even this neo-feudal Court is going to have to strike all these bans down, or make a mockery of 800 years of Western Law and 220 years of US law.


Before the social conservatives inevitably start bloviating about the end of the world and calling for the heads of the SCOTUS justices who ruled against them, please realize that you have lost this particular battle of the culture war.  Swallow your failure pill and try to realize that you are living in the 21st century.  If you choose to live in a free country, you have to accept that those freedoms exist for EVERYONE.  Deal with it.

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