Jun 17, 2013
Impact of SCOTUS | Marriage Equality
The Supreme Court Ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act: What it Means
The Supreme Court’s historic ruling striking down Section 3 of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is an enormous victory for loving, married couples and their families. But what does it mean for families across the country?
CAUTION: If you live in a state - like North Carolina - that discriminates against married same-sex couples, you should be aware that the Supreme Court decision striking down part of the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act does NOT mean that your state must respect your marriage or that you will be eligible for all marriage-based federal benefits. Further work is still required to end marriage discrimination nationwide and to secure both state and federal equal treatment for all marriages.
Check out an introductory FAQ from our friends at Lambda Legal.
Issues of interest include:
- Private Employment Issues and Benefits
- Benefits and Protections for Civilian Federal Employees and their Spouses
- Family and Medical Leave Act for Non-Federal Employees
- Federal Taxes
- The Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)
- Social Security and Family Protections
- Military Spousal Benefits
- Veteran’s Spousal Benefits
- Supplemental Security Income for Aged, Blind, and Disabled (SSI)
- Medicare Spousal Protections
- Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
CALIFORNIA’S PROPOSITION 8 | Hollingsworth v. Perry
Hollingsworth v. Perry—the case regarding Proposition 8 (or Prop 8), the ballot measure banning same-sex marriage in California—concerned whether a state could deny same-sex couples the right to marry.
In May 2008, the California Supreme Court held that state statutes limiting marriage to opposite-sex applicants violated the California Constitution. The following month, same-sex couples were able to marry in California.
In November 2008, however, California's electorate adopted Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment that restored the opposite-sex limitation on marriage. Following the adoption of Proposition 8, several lawsuits were filed that challenged the validity of the amendment under various state constitutional provisions.
On August 4, 2010, a District Court judge overturned Proposition 8 based on the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, concluding that California had no rational basis or vested interest in denying gays and lesbians marriage licenses. On February 7, 2012, a three-judge Court of Appeals panel also declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional. Proponents of Proposition 8 appealed the case (Hollingsworth v. Perry) to the U.S. Supreme Court on July 31, 2012.
The Supreme Court ruled on the fate of Prop 8 in the following way:
Trial court victory stands. Same-sex couples are able to marry in California.
DEFENSE OF MARRIAGE ACT (DOMA) | U.S. v. Windsor
While the Hollingsworth case concerns what states may and may not do in regards to the freedom to marry, U.S. v. Windsor addressed the federal government’s role in defining marriage via Section 3 of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” or DOMA.
In 2007, plaintiff Edith "Edie" Windsor and Thea Spyer, residents of New York, married in Canada, after a 40 year partnership. Spyer died in 2009, at which time New York legally recognized same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions. After Spyer's death, Windsor was required to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes on her inheritance of her wife's estate. If federal law accorded their marriage the same status as different-sex marriages recognized by their state, she would have qualified for an unlimited spousal deduction, and paid no federal estate taxes. Without the benefit of a spousal deduction, she still did not owe any taxes on the first $3.5 million she inherited from Thea, but the remainder was subject to federal estate tax.
The definition of marriage within Section 3 of DOMA—the federal law enacted September 21, 1996, that restricts federal marriage benefits and required inter-state marriage recognition to only opposite-sex marriage the United States—bars the Internal Revenue Service from recognizing Windsor’s same-sex marriage.
At issue in Windsor is whether Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional, as it defines the term marriage ("a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife") and spouse as ("a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.")
The Supreme Court ruled on DOMA in the following way:
Affirms the Second Circuit decision that Section 3 of DOMA violates the constitution’s guarantee of equality. Learn more>>>
The Supreme Court holding to strike down Section 3 of DOMA means same-sex couples can enjoy the rights, responsibilities and protections under more than 1,000 federal laws, with the effects of:
- health insurance for spouses of federal employees
- family medical leave for spouses to care for one another during illness
- military spousal support and benefits
- ability for spouses to file federal taxes jointly as married, saving them thousands
- keeping together binational couples
Equality NC Responds to Historic Supreme Court Holding to Strike Down DOMA (6/26/2013)
The state’s premier LGBT organization calls decision “an enormous victory.”
Equality NC Responds to Supreme Court's Prop 8 Dismissal (6/26/ 2013)
State’s premier LGBT organization calls decision “momentous victory for marriage equality.”
The Fight for Marriage Equality at the Supreme Court
Learn more about the background of Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop 8) and U.S. v. Windsor (DOMA), ways the Court ruled on these two landmark marriage cases, and how they could impact states like ours.