Kristin's Blog
Two Supreme Court Rulings Support the Right to Same-Sex Marriage

On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court issued two important decisions on same-sex marriage rights.   In United States v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a key provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defined marriage as only between a man and a woman. The Court found that defining marriage to exclude same sex unions is unconstitutional and violated the equal protections afforded by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.  In, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Court left in place a federal court’s decision that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional and cannot be enforced. Proposition 8 outlawed same-sex marriage in California by defining marriage as between only a man and a woman.  The decisions of United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry advance the goal of equal rights and protection for same-sex marriage.

United States v. Windsor

In a 5-4 decision, the United States Supreme Court struck down a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional as it deprives equal liberties and rights granted under the 5th Amendment of due process.   Justice Kennedy, Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan deciding. Justices Roberts, Scalia, Alito, and Thomas dissenting.

The case was brought by Edith Windsor, who lawfully wed Thea Spyer in Canada and whose marriage was legally recognized in New York where she resided. When Spyer passed away, Windsor was forced to pay more than $360,000 in federal estate taxes on her inheritance because the Internal Revenue Service, under DOMA, defined “spouse” to exclude same-sex partners.

The Court ruled that DOMA’s definitions of “marriage” and “spouse,” denied same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with federal recognitions of their marriages, and violated the equal liberty of persons.

Justice Anthony Kennedy writing for the majority, indicated, “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.”

Click here to read the full opinion.

Hollingsworth v. Perry

In a 5-4 decision the Supreme Court held that Proposition 8 was unconstitutional as it violated due process and equal protection under the 14th Amendment. Justices Roberts, Scalia, Breyer, Kagan, and Ginsburg deciding. Justices Kennedy, Sotomayor, Alito, and Thomas dissent.

In 2008, Proposition 8 passed in California stating that “[o]nly marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” After the passing of Prop 8, two same-sex couples filed suit stating that Prop 8 violated Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the 14th Amendment. California’s Governor and Attorney General and other state officials responsible for the enforcement of the marriage laws acted as the defendants. The district court found that Prop 8 did violate due process and equal protection. The proponents appealed.

The California Supreme court concluded, “[i]n a postelection challenge to a voter-approved initiative measure, the official proponents of the initiative are authorized under California law to appear and assert the state’s interest in the initiative’s validity and to appeal a judgment invalidating the measure when the public officials who ordinarily defend the measure or appeal such a judgment decline to do so.”

In response to the decision, Governor Brown directed the California Department of Public Health to advise county officials that all county clerks and county registrar/recorders must comply with the federal court injunction against enforcing Proposition 8.

Click here to read the full opinion.

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