The big LGBT Rights cases announced on Wednesday challenged the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
In 1996, the Republican controlled Congress passed a bill that President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, signed. Clinton, who in 1992 stated he would be the first President to champion gay rights, went back on that promise with "Don't Ask, Don't Tell" and then in 1996 facing re-election signed DOMA. Representative John Lewis and many House members fiercely stated their opposition to the bill. The law defined marriage for the purpose of federal benefits as one man and one woman. The law denied 1,138 benefits to federal employees involved in same-sex marriages.
Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer were together for 46 years. In 2007 the couple married in Canada under their equal marriage laws passed which were passed in 2005. Coincidently enough, that was the same year of the NHL's season long lockout that resulted in the Stanley Cup Final not being played.
If you get a chance watch Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement. It's about an hour long. It's very funny and sweet about how these two were together for so long and how Edie takes care of her wife Thea.
Thea Spyer passed away in 2009. As executor of Thea's estate, the IRS compelled Edie to pay over $350,000 in back taxes. The state of New York recognized their relationship as at the time the Empire State recognized same-sex couples who were married in other places.
In November 2010, Edith "Edie" Windsor with assistance from the ACLU sued the United States over that this policy discriminated her. In March 2013, oral arguments were heard in the case of United States v. Windsor (2013).
Among those that signed onto the amicus briefs were 212 members of Congress, Electronic Arts (creator of the popular Madden NFL series), Senator Mark Warner (D-VA), Microsoft and Starbucks, and Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA).
IAVA wasn't the only veteran group to sign on to the repealing DOMA. Former congressman and retired Navy Admiral Joe Sestak authored this op-ed in philly.com stating his support for DOMA repeal. Several retired military leaders, service members and families, and Outserve-SLDN also filed amicus briefs in support of repealing DOMA.
After oral arguments, Ms. Windsor made this statement on the steps of the Supreme Court:
"I am today an out lesbian... who just sued the United States of America."
On Wednesday, the Supreme Court in a 5-4 decision ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional because it violated the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution. Justice Kennedy authored the majority opinion with the four liberal-leaning justices joining. Justice Scalia authored a dissenting opinion with Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito and Thomas joining.
I read Kennedy's opinion. Here are the portions that stood out the most to me.
The Act’s demonstrated purpose is to ensure that if any State decides to recognize same-sex marriages, those unions will be treated as second-class marriages for purposes of federal law. This raises a most serious question under the Constitution’s Fifth Amendment.
DOMA’s operation in practice confirms this purpose. When New York adopted a law to permit same-sex marriage, it sought to eliminate inequality; but DOMA frustrates that objective through a system-wide enactment with no identified connection to any particular area of federal law. DOMA writes inequality into the entire United States Code. The particular case at hand concerns the estate tax, but DOMA is more than a simple determination of what should or should not be allowed as an estate tax refund. Among the over 1,000 statutes and numerous federal regulations that DOMA controls are laws pertaining to Social Security, housing, taxes, criminal sanctions, copyright, and veterans’ benefits.
DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency. Responsibilities, as well as rights, enhance the dignity and integrity of the person. And DOMA contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not other couples, of both rights and responsibilities. By creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State, DOMA forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and protect. By this dynamic DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, see Lawrence, 539 U. S. 558, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.
From there it goes into detail about how DOMA impacts couples.
And here is where Justice Kennedy lowers the boom!
The class to which DOMA directs its restrictions and restraints are those persons who are joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State. DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. 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. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment. This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is affirmed.
It is so ordered.
Section III of DOMA was ruled unconstitutional. In effect DOMA is dead. It is still there, but it's dead weight. And we don't dump anything within 50 miles from shore.
All and all this case (along with the Prop 8 case, which I will have up shortly) was a big (bleeping) deal. This country has come a long way in LGBT Rights.
But, as stated earlier, a new journey begins.
And I welcome it.