|
|
The Suburbanite
  • Supreme Court strikes federal marriage provision

  • In a historic victory for gay rights, the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a provision of a federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples and cleared the way for the resumption of same-sex marriage in California.

    • email print
  • In a historic victory for gay rights, the Supreme Court on Wednesday struck down a provision of a federal law denying federal benefits to married gay couples and cleared the way for the resumption of same-sex marriage in California.
    The justices issued two 5-4 rulings in their final session of the term. One decision wiped away part of a federal anti-gay marriage law that has kept legally married same-sex couples from receiving tax, health and pension benefits.
    The other was a technical ruling that said nothing at all about same-sex marriage, but left in place a trial court’s declaration that California’s Proposition 8 is unconstitutional. Cali. Gov. Jerry Brown quickly ordered that marriage licenses be issued to gay couples as soon as a federal appeals court lifts its hold on the lower court ruling, possibly next month.
    About the case
    The federal marriage law, known by its acronym DOMA, had been struck down by several federal courts.
    The justices chose for their review the case of 84-year-old Edith Windsor of New York, who sued to challenge a $363,000 federal estate tax bill after her partner of 44 years died in 2009.
    Windsor, who goes by Edie, married Thea Spyer in 2007 after doctors told them Spyer would not live much longer. She suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years. Spyer left everything she had to Windsor.
    Windsor would have paid nothing in inheritance taxes if she had been married to a man. And now she is eligible for a refund.
    What is DOMA?
    DOMA is the federal Defense of Marriage Act, enacted in 1996. The court Wednesday struck down a section of that law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman for purposes of federal law. That’s what had denied legally married gay couples access to a host of federal benefits and programs that are available to straight couples.
    Does it matter where a couple lives?
    Even with Wednesday’s ruling, where legally married gay couples live still may affect the federal benefits they can obtain, at least for now. Social Security survivor benefits, for example, depend on where a couple is living when a spouse dies. If that happens in a state that bans or does not recognize the union, it’s not for sure that the surviving spouse will be entitled to the payments.