U.S. Supreme Court Declares Core Section of the "Defense of Marriage Act" Unconstitutional
June 26, 2013
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
LITTLE ROCK AND NEW YORK – The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that section three of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act" is unconstitutional and that the federal government cannot discriminate against married lesbian and gay couples for the purposes of determining federal benefits and protections. Today's ruling is a historic victory for gay and lesbian Americans and a tremendous step forward for the cause of equality.
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."
“Today’s ruling marks a great day in American history,” said ACLU of Arkansas director Rita Sklar. “Today the United States Supreme Court recognized that gay men and lesbians deserve the same dignity and respect as straight people, and that their monogamous, committed, loving relationships do, too.”
The justices ruled in favor of Edith "Edie" Windsor, who 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. Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977, and Windsor helped her through her long battle with the disease, which eventually left Spyer paralyzed. Windsor and Spyer, who were a couple for 44 years, 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 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.
"DOMA violated the fundamentally American principles of fairness and equality," said Windsor. "Because of today's Supreme Court ruling, every child born today will be able to grow up in a world without DOMA – a world where the federal government won't discriminate against their marriages no matter who they are. I know Thea would have been so happy and proud to see how far we have come in our fight to ensure that all gay and lesbian couples are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve."
“This is a tremendous step forward for equality,” said ACLU of Arkansas legal director Holly Dickson. “There are more than 1100 places in federal laws and programs where being married makes a difference—from eligibility for family medical leave, to social security survivor’s benefits, to access to health care for a spouse. Though we will have to watch for implementation, married same-sex couples should now be eligible for these benefits and protections.”
Both a federal district court and a federal appeals court ruled in Windsor's favor previously.
Windsor is represented by the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.