DOMA Is Done For
It always seemed destined to be overturned, but by such a narrow margin? 5 to 4? Really?
The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, barring federal recognition of same-sex marriages for purposes such as Social Security survivors’ benefits, insurance benefits, immigration and tax filing.
Section 3 of the law defines marriage as “a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife” and a spouse as “a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” That provision had been struck down by eight lower courts before the Supreme Court’s 5-4 ruling in United States v. Windsor.
This decision means that legally married same-sex couples are now entitled to the same federal benefits as married opposite sex couples.
Scalia’s logical twister is worth noting…
“This case is about power in several respects. It is about the power of our people to govern themselves, and the power of this Court to pronounce the law. Today’s opinion aggrandizes the latter, with the predictable consequence of diminishing the former. We have no power to decide this case. And even if we did, we have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation. The Court’s errors on both points spring forth from the same diseases root: an exalted conception of the role of this institution in America.”
So the court has no power to decide that federally created legislation is unconstitutional?
Kennedy wrote the majority opinion and it’s pretty straight forward…
“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.
The court side-stepped Prop 8, saying it didn’t have the authority to rule on it. So I wouldn’t expect the court to make any sort of Loving v. Virginia decision any time in the near future. They clearly want to leave the same-sex marriage decisions to the states, so it’ll be a long slog for at least a couple decades before this is the law of the land. And even then, I’m sure some states could still be gay-marriage free.
Regardless, it’s a great day for equal rights!