Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA

Landmark ruling extends federal benefits to married same-sex couples

In a landmark decision, the Supreme Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional Wednesday in a 5-4 split. Justice Anthony Kennedy, considered the swing vote, write the majority opinion.

The decision strikes down the controversial 1996 law that denied more than 1,000 federal rights and privileges to legally married same-sex couples. As the marriage equality movement achieved dizzyingly rapid victories in the last five years, efforts to repeal DOMA gained widespread support among Americans who viewed the law as unfair to gay and lesbian couples.

The case, Windsor v. United States, specifically challenged Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex unions. The section declares, “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”

Opponents of DOMA argued that this language violated the equal protection guarantees of the Fifth Amendment. A New York appeals court ruling in October 2012 found DOMA unconstitutional.


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