The Supreme Court just announced that it will hear both the Edie Windsor case challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the federal challenge to California’s Proposition 8 (Prop 8). This will be the first time that the Supreme Court has heard a marriage equality case.
This means that, in six short months (June 2013), we will have a Supreme Court decision either overturning DOMA or upholding it. In the Windsor case, both the Southern District of New York and Second Circuit Court of Appeals found that making Edie Windsor pay over $350,000 in federal estate taxes when her beloved wife (and partner of 44 years), Thea Spyer, died and left her estate to Edie, was unconstitutional given that the State of New York legally recognized Edie and Thea’s marriage, and that such taxes would not have been incurred had Edie and Thea been an opposite-sex married couple.
The Supreme Court will consider the following questions:
- Does Section 3 of DOMA (limiting the definition of marriage for the purposes of federal law as between one man and one woman) violate equal protection under the Fifth Amendment?
- Does the fact that the government agreed with the Second Circuit decision that DOMA was unconstitutional deprive the Supreme Court of jurisdiction to hear this case? (The Department of Justice (DOJ) told the Southern District of New York that Edie should be granted a refund because Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional, and that it would not defend the validity of DOMA in the case).
- Does the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) have standing in this case? (BLAG is the group that, led by House Republican leadership, took over defending the validity of DOMA once the DOJ refused to do so).
The Supreme Court’s announcement today also means that California same-sex couples must continue to wait to marry (again, until June 2013) so that the Supreme Court can rule on whether Prop 8 - an amendment to the California constitution limiting the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman - is unconstitutional. In this case, the Supreme Court will consider:
- Whether the 14th Amendment bars California from defining marriage in a “traditional” way.
- Whether backers of Prop 8 have standing in this case. (The backers of Prop 8 defended Prop 8 when the state of California, at the direction of then-Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, refused to defend Prop 8 on appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals).
Oral argument on both cases should occur in late March, with a decision being issued in late June.
As the Supreme Court takes these historic steps, we stand with Edie Windsor, Californians, and all families still suffering and at risk (including many Vermont families) because of the discrimination built into our laws.
When DOMA falls, fair-minded folks in states still lacking marriage equality (including those with discrimination entrenched through constitutional bans) will need our support more than ever as they move to protect families headed by same-sex couples. Stay tuned for news and ways you can help.