The much awaited decision on United States v. Windsor was handed down by the US Supreme Court on Wednesday 26th June 2013. The case concerned federal laws designed to restrict the meaning of marriage to that between and man and a woman.
The Court ruled that it had the jurisdiction to to consider the merits of the case and that DOMA is “unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment”.
In its slip opinion, the Court said:
“By seeking to injure the very class New York seeks to protect, DOMA violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government.
“The Constitution’s guarantee of equality “must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot” justify disparate treatment of that group.”
In its opinion, the Supreme Court argued that States have the right to make law on marriage and that the Federal Government may not make laws specifically designed to disadvantage groups legally married under state law.
The case under consideration told the story of Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, who were married in a lawful ceremony in Ontario, Canada, in 2007. They returned home to New York City and when Spyer died in 2009, she left her entire estate to Windsor.
Windsor sought to claim the estate tax exemption for surviving spouses. She was barred from doing so by a federal law, the Defense of Marriage Act, which excludes a same-sex partner from the definition of “spouse” as used in federal statutes.
Windsor paid the $363,053 in taxes but then challenged the constitutionality of their collection in the courts. The United States District Court and the Court of Appeals ruled in her favour and ordered the United States to pay Windsor a refund.
This Supreme Court has now also affirmed the judgement in Windsor’s favour. She is now entitled to a full refund, plus interest.
Edie received a phone call from Barack Obama following the victory. The President was on Air Force One en route to Senegal. After congratulating Ms Windsor he also made a public statement on the ruling:
“I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal – and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well…”
Attorney General Eric Holder also commented on the decision:
“Today’s historic decision in the case of United States v. Windsor, declaring Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, is an enormous triumph for equal protection under the law for all Americans. The Court’s ruling gives real meaning to the Constitution’s promise of equal protection to all members of our society, regardless of sexual orientation. This decision impacts a broad array of federal laws. At the President’s direction, the Department of Justice will work expeditiously with other Executive Branch agencies to implement the Court’s decision…”
The full US Supreme Court opinion on United States v. Windsor can be read by clicking here.