July 8, 2013

United States v. Windsor: The Court Says DOMA Discriminates. Duh!


How does this ruling impact me?




Washington, DC - - - Most observers of the Supreme Court of the United States characterized the rulings in the two gay marriage cases they considered this term, as “historic” decisions. After having some time to read the opinions, and digesting what they chose to do, I would say that one opinion is historic in scope, and the other was a non-decision.

In the Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the court took the easy way out, and ruled that the petitioner’s didn’t have legal standing to act on behalf of California. While the ruling had the desired effect of reinstating gay marriage in California, the court didn’t consider the validity of gay marriage bans.

In United States v. Windsor, the case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) enacted by Congress, the Supreme Court concurred with lower court rulings that found DOMA unconstitutional.


The historic majority opinion was written by Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy wrote:

The class to which DOMA directs its restrictions and restraints are those persons who are joined in same-sex marriages made lawful by the State. DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity.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. This opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages.
The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit is affirmed.
When he wrote that “this opinion and its holding are confined to those lawful marriages,” the court mandated that gay marriages performed in a state that sanctions and recognizes same-sex marriages, must be recognized by the federal government as such. Federal recognition of gay marriages confer over 1,100 benefits to same-sex partners (including health insurance benefits, hospital visitation and social security death benefits).

Edith Windsor, the pettioner in the United States v. Windsor challenge to the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA), was victorious when the Supreme Court ruled that DOMA discriminates.


Edith Windsor, 84, the grand marshall of New York’s Gay Pride Parade this year, is the widow who filed suit against the Federal Government when her wife and life partner, Thea Spyer, passed away. Edith was assessed $363,053 in estate taxes because the government didn’t recognize her lawful marriage. Straight married couples don't have to pay the estate tax, and the court found that this violated the principles of equality embodied in the US Constitution.

Justice Kennedy wrote about state’s rights, and their motivation for sanctioning and recognizing gay marriages. [emphasis my own]

By its recognition of the validity of same-sex marriages performed in other jurisdictions and then by authorizing same-sex unions and same-sex marriages, New York sought to give further protection and dignity to that bond. For same-sex couples who wished to be married, the State acted to give their lawful conduct a lawful status. This status is a far-reaching legal acknowledgment of the intimate relationship between two people, a relationship deemed by the State worthy of dignity in the community equal with all other marriages. It reflects both the community’s considered perspective on the historical roots of the institution of marriage and its evolving understanding of the meaning of equality.

DOMA mandated that the Federal Government could NOT recognize same-sex marriages. The court found that DOMA “violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government.” There are gay marriage bans currently in 32 states, and I would think that those bans violate the Fifth Amendment too.
The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States.
What about the stigma placed upon the residents of states with a gay marriage ban?
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.
These states have codified discrimination in their state Constitution’s by banning gay marriages. The effect of these bans render same-sex committed relationships as unequal to comparable opposite-sex committed relationships.
DOMA undermines both the public and private significance of state sanctioned same-sex marriages; for it tells those couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages are unworthy of federal recognition. This places same-sex couples in an unstable position of being in a second-tier marriage. The differentiation demeans the couple, whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, see Lawrence, 539 U. S. 558, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify. And it humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.
The Supreme Court’s historic decision in United States v. Windsor  will have an impact far beyond Edith Windsor justly receiving her $363,053 refund from the IRS. In fact, we may not fully understand the full effects of the ruling for many years to come.

The immediate effect of invalidating DOMA confers Federal recognition of gay marriages, and the accompanying Federal benefits, for the very first time.

The court acknowledged that lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people experience discrimination, which violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. The court also articulated that when government fails to recognize our committed relationships, that they are treating us like second class citizens.

That’s what makes this decision historic, and a landmark ruling. And that’s why right-wing extremists are up in arms, and furious with the court.

Those who are unhappy with the court would be much better off, and less displeased, if they heeded the words of a comic that’s one of my personal favorites, the terrific “out” comedian Wanda Sykes, who says that “If you don’t believe in same sex marriage, then don’t marry someone of the same sex.”

Right-wing extremists would be well served if they would heed Wanda’s wisdom, and read and digest the court’s wise words.  

The US Constitution prohibits denying any citizen the equal protection of the laws, and that includes those of us who are lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender. If you don’t like it you’ll have to get over it. And by all means - don’t marry someone of the same sex.

straight talk in a queer world.         jiveinthe415.com              
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