BRADENTON – On Wednesday, the Supreme Court ruled that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, a law denying federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples, was unconstitutional. DOMA was passed with broad bipartisan support and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.
The vote was 5 to 4, with swing Justice Anthony M. Kennedy joining the four liberal-leaning justices and writing the opinion.
“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Justice Kennedy wrote. “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.”
By defining "spouse" and its related terms to mean a heterosexual couple in a recognized marriage, Section 3 thereby made non-recognition of same-sex marriages for all federal purposes the law. That included insurance benefits for government employees, Social Security survivors' benefits, immigration, bankruptcy, and the filing of joint tax returns. It also excluded same-sex spouses from laws protecting families of federal officers, laws evaluating financial aid eligibility, and federal ethics laws applicable to "spouses."
The four conservative leaning justices – Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Samuel A. Alito Jr – were in the minority.
The decision does not alter any state laws on same-sex marriage, but does determine whether same-sex couples who are legally married in states that do allow it can receive federal benefits that apply to other married couples.
The court also ruled on Wednesday in a case deciding whether California’s ban on same sex marriage is constitutional. In another 5-4 decision, the court said that opponents of same-sex marriage did not have standing to appeal a lower-court ruling that overturned California’s ban, which means California will be free to move forward in legalizing gay marriage, though the decision does not impact other states.
editor's note: this article has been expanded to include more information since first published.
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