The U.S. Supreme Court ruled this morning the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional and that it is a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.
The case arises out of a New York state case taht recognizes the marriage of New York residents Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, who wed in Ontario, Canada, in 2007. When Spyer died in 2009, she left her entire estate to Windsor.
Windsor sought to claim the federal estate tax exemption for surviving spouses, but was barred from doing so by the federal Defense of Marriage Act as claiming a marriage must be between a man and woman.
The court today recognized the difficulty of couples caught between conflicting state and federal laws.
New York’s actions were a proper exercise of sovereign authority, reflecting both the community perspective on the historical roots of the institution of marriage and its evolving understanding of the meaning of equality, the court said today.
The court stated that “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.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote the opinion in which he was joined by justices Ginsburg, Sotomayer, Breyer and Kagan.
Justice John Roberts wrote a dissenting opinion in which Antonin Scalia joined regarding whether the court even had jurisdiction in the matter. Justice Samuel Alito wrote a dissenting opinon on the DOMA decision itself.