What do the Prop 8 and DOMA decisions mean for the future of same-sex marriage?
The United States Supreme Court’s decisions on Proposition 8 and the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) have far-reaching effects across the country and will undoubtedly produce strong reactions on both sides of the debate.
Same-sex marriage is a contentious issue in the US, stirring cultural, religious and political feelings, and the two cases have the potential to shape future legal decisions. There appears to be no real consensus on gay marriage, although opinion polls show that support is growing, and the federal system of government complicates the laws surrounding it.
In 1996 DOMA defined marriage under federal law as the union of one man and one woman for the purpose of federal benefits. However, DOMA can be challenged under the federal court system, and it does not prevent individual states from defining marriage as they see fit. This has led to division across the country: 12 states recognise same-sex marriage, over 30 prohibit it, and others have laws that are somewhere in between.
The DOMA case in question for the Supreme Court decision concerns whether Edith Windsor of New York, who was married to a woman, should get the federal estate tax deduction available to heterosexuals when their spouses die. Windsor’s partner, Thea Spyder, died in 2009, and although their marriage was recognised under New York law, Windsor was forced to pay federal estate taxes because the federal government would not recognise her marriage. She then sued the government, seeking a $363,000 tax refund. In 2011, Attorney General Eric Holder said the law was unconstitutional, and the administration requested the Supreme Court strike it down. The Court heard oral arguments in March, and with President Obama’s landmark support, the law has been repealed. As a result, Edith Windsor will get her tax refund, as will many other Americans in her position.
The Proposition 8 case refers to a state ballot in California which was voted in 2008. It added to the state’s constitution that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California”
The Proposition 8 came in force just months after the state’s high court ruling had said gay marriage could proceed. This means gay marriage was legal for only a brief period in California.
A federal judge struck down the law in 2010, but proponents appealed, and the decision ended up in the hands of the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court rejected the appeal by the supporters of the ban on same sex marriage, meaning that, in California, gay couples can continue to wed.
The two couples who filed suit were Kristin Perry and Sandra Stier, from Berkeley, and Jeffrey Zarrillo and Paul Katami, who live in Burbank.
A timeline of the gay rights movement in the US