In a victory for marriage equality, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 on Wednesday that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)—a federal law that deprived legally married same-sex couples of benefits given to other married couples—is unconstitutional and "a deprivation of equal liberty."
“DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion, and added that "The avowed purpose and practical effect of the law here in question are to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages made lawful by the unquestioned authority of the States."
DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty. It imposes a disability on the class by refusing to acknowledge a status the State finds to be dignified and proper. DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.
Kennedy was joined by Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan.
Cheering the ruling, Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, said that the "the justices have affirmed that all married couples are equal, ending the ‘gay exception’ that relegated same-sex couples to second-class status for too long. Married couples – gay or non-gay – should be treated as what they are: married."
"The Supreme Court’s mortal blow to DOMA puts the moral weight of the federal government on the side of all Americans who seek to share in the freedom to marry and all its protections and responsibilities," stated Wolfson.
In an additional victory for equality on Wednesday, the Court ruled that it will not address the merits of a challenge to California's Proposition 8, saying those who brought the proposed the ban of same-sex marriage had no legal standing to do so.
“Today, history was made not only by the Supreme Court, but by the hundreds of thousands of people across the country who have worked for marriage equality in the states and federally," stated Rea Carey, Executive Director of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force. "Now we have to work harder than ever to ensure that all same-sex couples have marriage equality across our nation—and all LGBT people have full equality in every other respect."
* * *
* * *
To see more about the lead plaintiff in the case, Edith Windsor, her now deceased wife, Thea Spyer, and the remarkable love story they shared, see the clip below by posted by Democracy Now! earlier this year: