As reported by the Ventura County Star, last month the United States Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which had defined marriage as a legal union between man and woman for the purposes of federal rules, regulations, and administrative determinations, is unconstitutional.  The case of United States v. Windsor (6/26/13) USSCT No. 12-307 (Kennedy), centered on two women in a committed relationship residing in New York, and then traveling to Ontario to be married.

Their marriage was recognized as valid by the state of New York.  However, in 2009, Wife 1 died, leaving her entire estate to Wife 2.  When Wife 2 sought to claim an estate tax exemption as Wife 1’s surviving spouse, she was denied the exemption because per DOMA, Section 3, she did not qualify as a surviving spouse.  And, thus, the legal challenge began.

In their ruling, the majority for the United States Supreme Court made seven (7) important legal findings.  They are:

1)      By continuing to enforce Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, the United States retains sufficient stake to support standing to appeal and seek cert;

2)      BLAG’s “sharp adversarial presentation” satisfies standing concerns raised by the fact that all principal parties essentially agree;

3)      Definition and regulation of marriage has traditionally been left to the states, but Congress may enact limited federal laws on those issues to further federal policy;

4)      DOMA goes beyond those traditional limits by creating a federal definition of marriage that makes “second-class marriages” of valid same-sex marriages in states that permit such marriages;

5)      DOMA’s depriving same-sex couples of benefits and responsibilities available to federally recognized heterosexual marriages is strong evidence of its “purpose and effect of disapproval” of same-sex marriage;

6)      DOMA impermissibly requires same-sex married couples to live as married for state law purposes, but unmarried for federal law purposes; and

7)      DOMA “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples” and brings financial harm to those children.

In all, the majority held Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional as a deprivation of liberty of the person guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment, and thus to be invalid.

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