WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Supreme Court overturned a key component of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) today and said that legally married same-sex couples are entitled to the same benefits under federal law that are extended to heterosexual married couples.
“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,” wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, speaking for the 5-4 majority. “By … treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
“DOMA violated the fundamentally American principles of fairness and equality,” said Edith “Edie” Windsor, who sued the federal government for failing to recognize her marriage to her partner Thea Spyer after Spyer’s death. “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.”
“Today, the Supreme Court reinforced its commitment to the promise of ‘Equal Justice Under Law.’ This is a great day, and a reminder that when individual citizens like Edie Windsor have the courage to stand up for their rights, they can achieve fundamental change,” said Pamela Karlan, co-director of the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.
“Today’s ruling is a huge victory for equality,” said U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone (D-NJ-6). “The Supreme Court has held what I have been arguing for more than a decade—DOMA is unconstitutional. Yet it is still just one step in the march towards total equality for all Americans. I remain strongly in support of repealing DOMA in its entirety and passing the Respect for Marriage Act so that all marriages between two committed individuals in the United States are recognized by the federal government.”
“This is a landmark victory for personal freedom,” said Geoffrey J. Neale, chair of the Libertarian National Committee. “The Democrats and Republicans who have advanced, defended, and let stand government intrusion into the private contracts and choices of consenting adults will be remembered for their inhumanity on this issue.”
Not everyone was pleased by the ruling.
“I thought it was a bad decision,” Republican Gov. Chris Christie said during his monthly “Ask the Governor” radio show. “It’s just another example of judicial supremacy rather than having a government run by the people we actually vote for.”
“Today, the United States Supreme Court has lost its legitimacy as an arbiter of the Constitution and the rule of law,” said Mat Staver, founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, a conservative group that advocates religious freedom, the sanctity of life, and the family. “Today is the death of the Court’s legacy, because the decision in the Federal Defense of Marriage Act case defies logic and is a pure invention of a handful of Justices.”
“Marriage predates government and civil authorities,” Staver said. “No civil authority, including the Supreme Court, has the authority to redefine marriage. Marriage was not created by religion or government and is ontologically a union of one man and one woman.”
“The Supreme Court failed to recognize that ‘We the people’ should decide marriage policy,” said Christian Medical Association CEO Dr. David Stevens. “Activist judges with an agenda have been foisting their views on the people — based not on the original Constitution or the duly registered will of the people — but on what these judges imagine their progressive society should look like. Yet 38 states have affirmed that marriage is between a man and a woman. Regardless of this Court’s decision, the debate on marriage will continue.”
With the court’s decision in United States v. Windsor, more than 100,000 legally married same-sex couples will be able to take advantage of federal tax breaks, pension rights and other benefits that had only been available to heterosexual couples.
Twelve states and the District of Columbia currently permit same-sex marriages. A separate Supreme Court decision overturned California’s Proposition 8, clearing the way for same-sex marriages to proceed again in that state.
In 2012, Christie vetoed legislation that would have legalized gay marriage in New Jersey, but left open the possibility for the state’s voters to change the law through a referendum. “Let the people decide,” he said. “If it’s overwhelmingly popular, then put it on the ballot and it will pass.”
“The DOMA ruling means that the New Jersey Supreme Court will soon allow gay marriage in the state,” said state Sen. Raymond Lesniak (D-Union), a partner in the Weiner Lesniak LLP law firm. “The U. S. Supreme Court’s decision automatically makes New Jersey’s Domestic Partnership Law invalid because domestic partnerships will not provide the same rights and protections as marriage under federal law. Federal benefits will now be available to same-sex marriages but not to domestic partnerships in New Jersey. This unequal treatment violates the state constitution.
“A motion to the State Supreme Court will quickly provide gay couples the right to marry. The significance of the DOMA decision means marriage equality in New Jersey will soon be law.”
Organizing For Action, a non-profit organization which supports President Barack Obama, is encouraging people to sign an online petition in support of marriage equality in the 37 states that do not recognize same-sex marriage.
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