WASHINGTON (CNN) — The Supreme Court has struck down a key provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, ruling that same-sex spouses legally married in a state may receive federal benefits.
The case examines whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can legally marry. At issue is whether DOMA violates equal protection guarantees in the Fifth Amendment’s due process clause as applied to same-sex couples legally married under the laws of their states.
The key plaintiff is Edith “Edie” Windsor, 84, who married fellow New York resident Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007, about 40 years into their relationship. By the time Spyer died in 2009, New York courts recognized same-sex marriages performed in other countries. But the federal government didn’t recognize Windsor’s same-sex marriage, and she was forced to assume an estate tax bill much larger than those that other married couples would have to pay. So, Windsor sued the federal government.
A federal appeals court last year ruled in Windsor’s favor, saying DOMA violated the Constitution’s equal protection clause.
The Supreme Court has also dismissed a closely-watched appeal over same-sex marriage on jurisdictional grounds, ruling Wednesday private parties do not have “standing” to defend California’s voter-approved ballot measure barring gay and lesbians couples from state-sanctioned wedlock.
The ruling permits same-sex couples in California to legally marry.
The 5-4 decision avoids, for now, a sweeping conclusion on whether same-sex marriage is a constitutionally-protected “equal protection” right that would apply to all states.
At issue was whether the Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law prevents states from defining marriage, and whether a state can revoke same-sex marriage through referendum once it already has been recognized.
California voters approved the measure in 2008 with 52% of the vote shortly after the state Supreme Court ruled same-sex marriages are legal. The measure put gay and lesbian marriages on hold in the state, but a federal appeals court later rule Proposition 8 was unconstitutional.
The measure’s supporters then asked the Supreme Court to preserve the will of the voters.
The case is Hollingsworth v. Perry (12-144).