In a historic decision, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Wednesday to strike down part of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Same-sex spouses may now receive the same federal benefits as heterosexual spouses in states recognizing same-sex marriage.
“I feel it’s a great day for all Americans, not just gay and lesbian couples,” said Dena Bleeker, Edmond resident. “I have been with my partner for 18 years, and we are very curious as to what changes are to come in Oklahoma. I think the tide of inequality is slowly turning.”
The joint ruling of the court also bolstered the way for gays and lesbians to resume plans for marriage in California after the high court ruled against Proposition 8. Justices ruled that petitioners of Prop. 8 are without basis for appeal.
Proposition 8 is a constitutional amendment passed by California voters in 2008 defining marriage as between a man and a woman, excluding same-sex couples.
DOMA reserves the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law in 1996.
Justices in Wednesday’s ruling avoided redefining traditional marriage, but the government will not be able to treat families differently in states recognizing a couple’s right to same-sex marriage, said Tim Reese, an Edmond attorney.
“Significantly they said that those people have a 5th Amendment right that was violated when you single them out and discriminate against them,” Reese said.
Reese said it is likely the Supreme Court will eventually hear a case to determine if same-sex marriages must be recognized in states that prohibit same-sex marriages. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt said Oklahoma’s provision defining marriage as between a man and a woman remains valid.
Thirteen states currently recognize same-sex marriage along with the District of Columbia and five American Indian tribes.
“By declaring the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional, the Supreme Court signaled its unwillingness to uphold the truth about marriage,” Oklahoma City Archbishop Paul S. Coakley said. “Yet, the common good depends upon the willingness of societal leaders to uphold basic truths about our humanity, including the truth that we are not merely embodied, but engendered.”
Congressman James Lankford, R-Edmond, said he is disappointed in the Supreme Court’s dismissal of DOMA. The court’s decision creates a dilemma for some people with deep religious views who believe it is best for children to have both a mother and a father, Lankford said.
“We are and always have been a nation of families,” Lankford said. “In America two adults are free to live any lifestyle they choose, but marriage has always been a man and a woman committed for life to each other.”
The DOMA ruling is based on the United States v. Windsor case that began in district court. Edie Windsor, as executor of the estate of her longtime partner, Thea Spyer, sued the U.S. The state of New York had recognized the 2007 Canadian marriage of Windsor and Spyer. Windsor argued that DOMA is unconstitutional, seeking a tax refund of $363,053, according to the court.
DOMA required the federal estate tax to be paid, according to the court, by forbidding recognition of Windsor’s marriage to Spyer. Windsor’s marital exemption to federal estate taxes was forbidden by DOMA.
In delivering the majority opinion of the court, Associate Justice Anthony M. Kennedy wrote that DOMA “frustrates New York’s objective of eliminating inequality by writing inequality into the entire United States Code.”
Kennedy continued, “DOMA’s principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages. It contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their state, but not others, of both rights and responsibilities, creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same state. It also forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the state has found it proper to acknowledge and protect.”
Kennedy was joined by Associate Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen G. Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
Kennedy wrote that DOMA burdens the lives of same-sex married couples “in visible and public ways.” He noted that DOMA prohibits same-sex married couples from receiving health care benefits they would otherwise receive from the government.
“Glad to know that there is some sanity still in the Supreme Court of the United States of America, though I think there are five (justices) who should be impeached for that stupid act of taking us back in time and negating voting rights,” said Iris Lochner, an Edmond resident.
Chief Justice John G. Roberts was joined in writing dissenting opinions by Associate Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas. Roberts wrote that he agrees with Scalia’s opinion that Congress acted constitutionally in passing DOMA.
“At least without some more convincing evidence that the Act’s principal purpose was to codify malice, and that it furthered no legitimate government interests, I would not tar the political branches with the brush of bigotry,” Roberts wrote.
TO LEARN MORE about U.S. Supreme Court decisions, visit http://www.supremecourt.gov.