ST. PAUL, Minn. – The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that section three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and that the federal government cannot discriminate against married LGBT couples for the purposes of determining federal benefits and protections. Today's ruling is a historic victory for gay and lesbian Americans and a tremendous step forward for the cause of equality.
The court's ruling said: "The history of DOMA's enactment and its own text demonstrate that interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages, a dignity conferred by the States in the exercise of their sovereign power, was more than an incidental effect of the federal statute. It was its essence."
The justices ruled in favor of Edith "Edie" Windsor, who sued the federal government for failing to recognize her marriage to her partner Thea Spyer after Spyer's death. Windsor and Spyer met in the early 1960s. Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 1977, and Windsor helped her through her long battle with the disease, which eventually left Spyer paralyzed. Windsor and Spyer, a couple for 44 years, were married in 2007. When Spyer died in 2009, she left all of her property to Windsor, including the apartment that they shared. However, because DOMA prevented the federal government from recognizing gay marriage, Windsor was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes that she would not have owed if she had been married to a man. Windsor's attorneys argued that DOMA denied her, and other gay and lesbian married couples, the equal protection of the law guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
"DOMA violated the fundamentally American principles of fairness and equality," said Windsor. "Because of today's Supreme Court ruling, every child born today will be able to grow up in a world without DOMA – a world where the federal government won't discriminate against their marriages no matter who they are. I know Thea would have been so happy and proud to see how far we have come in our fight to ensure that all gay and lesbian couples are treated with the dignity and respect that they deserve."
"This is truly a day for the history books, one that will be marked by future generations as a giant step forward along our nation's continuing path towards equality," said Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, who argued Windsor's case at the Supreme Court. "DOMA was the last law on the books that mandated discrimination against gay people by the federal government simply because they are gay. The days of 'skim milk' or second-class marriages for gay people are now over."
“This move extends more than 1,100 benefits of marriage to the thirteen states and the District of Columbia that allow same-sex couples to marry and this removes a huge burden on couples who are in love and want to make a commitment to each other,” said Charles Samuelson, Executive Director at the ACLU of Minnesota. Some of the benefits that these couples in Minnesota will now be able to enjoy beginning August 1, 2013 include family medical leave, social security survivor's benefits, spousal health care benefits, and the ability to file joint tax returns.
The ACLU of Minnesota is proud to be a part of a coalition of rights groups that helped defeat the anti-marriage amendment and legalize same-sex marriage in the state of Minnesota.
Both a federal district court and a federal appeals court ruled in Windsor's favor previously. Windsor is represented by the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.