Same-Sex Marriage Rulings by Supreme Court

Same-Sex Marriage Rulings by Supreme Court

On the morning of June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States issued two major rulings – rulings that have been highly anticipated for nearly a year. The cases decided on Wednesday, June 26th, both had to do with same-sex marriage rights, though they dealt with the issue in different ways. The first case regarded Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (more commonly known as “DOMA”), a section of the piece of legislation signed into law under President Bill Clinton in the 1990’s that defined marriage as between one man and one woman for the purpose of many federal benefits (relating to insurance, Social Security, immigration, taxation filing status). The second case was Hollingsworth v. Perry, a case that dealt with California’s controversial Proposition 8 (Prop 8) ballot initiative, which, with just over half of the vote in 2008, led to a new State constitutional amendment stating that only a marriage between a man and a woman would be recognized in California. In both of these cases, the Supreme Court issued rulings that provided much encouragement to supporters of same-sex marriage.

The DOMA (Section 3) case before the high court was United States v. Windsor. The origin of the case was the passing of Edith Windsor’s wife – the two, who had been in a relationship for forty years, had been married in Canada, though they lived in New York City. Upon her wife’s death, Windsor was forced to pay more than $360,000 in estate tax. However, had her marriage been recognized by the U.S. government as being just as legitimate as a marriage between a man and a woman, Windsor would have been able to claim spousal tax deductions, meaning she would have paid little to no taxes following her wife’s death.

The case argued before the Supreme Court, one day shy of three months before the ruling, revolved around the constitutionality of the DOMA specification that same-sex marriages do not qualify for federal benefits in the same way that opposite-sex marriages do. In the end, the Supreme Court sided with Windsor (and millions of other Americans). The court ruled, along primarily partisan lines, 5-4, that Section 3 of DOMA was, indeed, unconstitutional.

The second of the two same-sex marriage cases for which opinions were given on June 26th, Hollingsworth v. Perry, dealt with California’s Proposition 8, which itself has a long legal history. After a successful ballot initiative (known as Proposition 8) in 2008, the California state constitution was amended to decree that only marriages consisting of one man and one woman would be officially recognized by the state. In 2010, the U.S. District Court in Northern California ruled that the constitutional amendment ushered-in by Prop 8 did nothing but discriminate against homosexuals wanting to marry and, therefore, it was unconstitutional. That decision was then appealed to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which upheld the ruling issued by the District Court, arguing that Prop 8 was discriminatory and unconstitutional; however, there remained in place a stay on same-sex marriages in California.

Later in 2012, supporters of Proposition 8 (which defined California marriages as only those between a man and a woman) asked the Supreme Court to hear their case against same-sex marriage. The case was heard, before the Supreme Court, just one day before the DOMA case was argued. Finally, on June 26th, 2013, the Court ruled, in a mixed fashion (not along strict party lines) that because private parties do not have the “standing” to defend a California ballot initiative and constitutional amendment, the Court cannot rule and, therefore, the appeal was dismissed.

The larger question of whether gay marriage is or should be legally recognized in its entirety, both at the state level or federal level, has yet to be answered by the Supreme Court. Nevertheless, the court’s rulings today paved the way for a more progressive stance on same-sex marriages and thus it is being applauded by same-sex marriage advocates (and many legal experts alike).

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