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Jun 26 2013

DOMA ruled unconstitutional

Scotusblog reports that in the same-sex marriage case United States v. Windsor, the Supreme Court today, by a 5-4 vote, ruled that “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion with Breyer, Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg joining.

The ruling applies to lawful marriages.

You can read the opinion here. Amy Howe says that the opinion says, ” 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. 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.”

So the Supreme Court upheld the Appeals Court verdict that the federal government cannot deny benefits to same-sex couples whose marriages are lawfully recognized by the state.

It is definitely good news!

11 comments

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  1. 1
    Chiroptera

    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.

    Holy cow! Wasn’t the expectation that the Court would just overturn this section of DOMA on principles of federalism? Am I correct in thinking that this is a bigger victory than was expected?

  2. 2
    Mano Singham

    I think it is bigger, and more that I expected. But we will have to wait for the legal scholars to weigh in on what it all means.

  3. 3
    Rob Grigjanis

    Some good news, after the horror of the VRA decision.

  4. 4
    Some Old Programmer

    My husband and I are taking our kids out to celebrate tonight–our marriage has been upgraded to first class status (by virtue of our residence in Massachusetts–you won’t find us living in a state that doesn’t recognize our family).

    Tomorrow I get to start working on amending our federal tax returns for the past few years; whee. At lest this will put an end to the ridiculous tap-dance of filing as single or head-of-household with the feds and married with the state.

  5. 5
    jamessweet

    To be honest, if you want a good description of why it is “bigger” than what was expected, read part II of Scalia’s dissent. He quite reasonably outlines what the majority opinion is trying to do — although he is hopping mad about it, while I am quite pleased :)

  6. 6
    Corvus illustris

    The real kicker here may be on “full faith and credit.” E.g., if a same-sex couple validly married in Minnesota moves to bigoted Michigan, must the Michigan governmental agencies recognize them as validly married under Michigan law? If that must happen, then it’s all over but the shooting. Per Wikipedia, though, the clause of DOMA that allowed MI to ignore MN in such a context is “still valid law” since it was not at issue in the Windsor matter.

  7. 7
    jamessweet

    The Windsor opinion gives lots of ammo for lower courts to rule otherwise, though. Scalia’s own dissent points this out: The same rationale used to strike down DOMA could be used to strike down MI laws, for example.

  8. 8
    Corvus illustris

    Ya, I was thinking that if a 2-sex couple and a 1-sex couple each validly married in MN were both to move to MI, then “equal protection” would imply that both couples must get the same treatment. It would be a shame to have to continue to litigate this, though (obvs IANAL–it would be a cash cow if I were).

  9. 9
    Mano Singham

    I think that sometimes when we focus on the grand symbolic value, we can forget that there are huge number damn annoying things that same-sex married couples face that opposite-sex couples don’t have any idea that they do not have to deal with them.

  10. 10
    Corvus illustris

    Tomorrow I get to start working on amending our federal tax returns for the past few years; whee. At lest this will put an end to the ridiculous tap-dance of filing as single or head-of-household with the feds and married with the state.

    Is it known how the “marriage tax” implications* of this decision will play out in general (I hope you don’t lose in particular) or how the IRS will come out on the whole? Windsor says that they lose on the uniform gift and estate tax, but there’s still the 1040.

    *A grateful nod to the memory of my sometime rep Millicent Fenwick, even tho’ she was a R.

  11. 11
    Some Old Programmer

    There’s definitely an impact from the disparate treatment of married folks vs. non-married. I Am Not An Accountant, but I’ve learned way more about US tax law than any non-professional should have to.

    The short version is that our tax situation should be exactly the same as any other married couple. US tax law is skewed by the ancestral assumption that the Man will work and the Little Woman will stay at home. If there’s a large income disparity, there’s less tax to pay. If the incomes are closer to parity, there’s more tax to pay.

    In our specific case, there are years we paid less total tax because we could both file as head-of-household and we didn’t have much income (my husband was in a PhD program, and just got a stipend). In the past two years, we’ve paid more in taxes because he started earning a lot more, while I’m a stay-at-home parent.

    Gift and estate taxes are another big issue; technically we were supposed to account for all monies flowing back and forth between us, and declare gift taxes if more than some net value got transferred in any one year (it was $10,000, but I believe it’s higher now).

    Oh, and we have a mortgage between the two of us (to avoid gift tax issues when we bought a house). For federal purposes, he makes mortgage payment to me, which he deducts and I declare as income. That all goes away now.

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