Chief Justice John Roberts writes the dissenting opinion, which concluded there was no jurisdiction to hear the case. "The Court does not have before it, and the logic of its opinion does not decide, the distinct question whether the States . . . may continue to utilize the traditional definition of marriage," Roberts writes.
In the separately and equally anticipated case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, which took up the question of the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8 barring gay marriages, the Supreme Court held that the Court lacked jurisdiction to hear the case, allowing the law to stand. In a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice Roberts, the court held: "We have never before upheld the standing of a private party to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials have chosen not to. We decline to do so for the first time here." That means the state court ruling striking down the state law stands and gay marriages are once again legal in the country's largest state.
Nonetheless, by its holding in U.S. v. Windsor, striking down DOMA, the Court essentially swept away a major impediment to gay marriage. If the states that don't recognize gay marriage are compelled to recognize gay marriages entered into in states where such marriages are deemed legal, the practical effect is to legalize gay marriages nationwide. As SCOTUS blog notes, "What this means, in plain terms, is that same-sex couples who are legally married will be entitled to equal treatment under federal law-- with regard to, for example, income taxes and Social Security benefits." Here's how Reuters describes the ruling's impact:
The ruling, on a 5-4 vote, means that legally married gay men and women are entitled to claim the same federal benefits that are available to opposite-sex married couples.
The court was due to decide within minutes a second case concerning a California law that bans same-sex marriage in the state.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the U.S. Constitution's guarantee of equal protection.
"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," Kennedy wrote . . .
By striking down Section 3 of the law, the court clears the way to more than 1,100 federal benefits, rights and burdens linked to marriage status.
As a result of Wednesday's ruling, Edith Windsor of New York, who was married to a woman and sued the government to get the federal estate tax deduction available to heterosexuals when their spouses die, will be able to claim a $363,000 tax refund.I would go one step further. Immigration benefits for same-sex couples will likely be accorded the same treatment as opposite-sex couples with today's decision in Windsor.
This should put an end to pointless efforts to add Indiana's Defense of Marriage Law to the state's constitution.
UPDATE: Just briefly to recap the facts of the plaintiff in the Windsor case. Edit Windsor married Thea Spyer in Ontario, Canada where same-sex marriages were recognized in 2007. Spyer died in 2009, leaving her entire estate to Windsor. When Windsor sought to obtain an exemption of the estate for inheritance tax purposes under the Internal Revenue Code as Spyer's spouse, she was denied the exemption and compelled to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes. Windsor brought suit, seeking a refund of the estate taxes she paid, which the IRS denied and Windsor appealed. The district court and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals sided with Windsor. The Justice Department refused to defend DOMA, arguing it was unconstitutional. Instead, a group of congressman stepped in to defend the law in the government's absence. By affirming the lower court rulings today, the IRS will be required to refund Windsor the money she paid in federal estate taxes.
While Justice Kennedy's majority opinion does not pass on the constitutionality of nearly identical state DOMA laws like Indiana's, the opinion should leave little doubt where the court will come down. See these comments made by Chief Justice Roberts in his dissenting opinion.
We may in the future have to resolve challenges to state marriage definitions affecting same-sex couples. That issue, however, is not before us in this case, and we hold today that we lack jurisdiction to consider it in the particular context of Hollingsworth v. Perry, ante, p. ___. I write only to highlight the limits of the majority’s holding and reasoning today, lest its opinion be taken to resolve not only a question that I believe is not properly before us—DOMA’s constitutionality—but also a question that all agree, and the Court explicitly acknowledges, is not at issue.