Ruling in Historic Windsor Case Establishes Equality for Married Gay Couples Under Federal Law; Prop 8 Ruling Clears the Way For Marriage Equality in California

Affiliate: ACLU of Mississippi
June 26, 2013 12:00 am

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Jackson, Miss. – Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a core provision of the Defense of Marriage ACT (DOMA) is unconstitutional. Writing for the majority Justice Jae Kennedy, said that section 3 of DOMA “is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” The federal government can no longer discriminate against married lesbian and gay couples for the purpose of determining federal benefits.

“Today’s ruling is an historic victory for lesbian and gay couples, and an affirmation of the importance of equality under our laws for all, said Bear Atwood, Legal Director at the ACLU of Mississippi.”

The court’s ruling said: “The history of DOMA’s enactment and its own text demonstrate that interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages, a dignity conferred by the States in the exercise of their sovereign power, was more than an incidental effect of the federal statute. It was its essence.”

Edith “Edie” Windsor, sued the federal government for failing to recognize her marriage to her partner Thea Spyer after Spyer’s death. Windsor and Spyer met in the early 1960s, and were a couple for 41 years. Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977, and Windsor helped her through her long battle with the disease, which eventually left Spyer paralyzed. They were married in 2007. When Spyer died in 2009, she left all of her property to Windsor, including the apartment that they shared. But because DOMA prevented the federal government from recognizing the marriages of gay people, Windsor was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes that she would not have owed if she had been married to a man. Windsor’s ACLU attorneys argued that DOMA denied her, and other gay and lesbian married couples, the equal protection of the law guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.

Under DOMA, legally married couples were treated as strangers under federal law. “This historic ruling recognizes how unfair it is to treat married lesbian and gay couples differently than married heterosexual couples. DOMA was the last law on the books that mandated discrimination against gay people by the federal government simply because they are gay,” said Atwood. “Edie and Thea were there for each other in sickness and in health, like any other married couple. It’s only right for the federal government to recognize their marriage and the life they built together.”

The Court’s ruling in Perry set another milestone today. The Court dismissed the appeal by the proponents of Prop 8 for lack of standing, which effectively re-instated the trial court decision from August 2010, which struck Prop 8 down as violating the U.S. Constitution. With today’s ruling by the court restoring the freedom to marry in California, 30% of our country will live in a state that permits lesbian and gay couples to marry.

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