Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, broadening rights for married same-sex couples

Tweet Share on Facebook Share on Tumblr Print

In a five to four decision issued on Wednesday morning, the Supreme Court struck down the federal Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.

The decision, written by Justice Anthony Kennedy, invalidated the federal law, which had been signed by Bill Clinton in 1996.

"DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal," Kennedy wrote for the majority, which included the other four Democratic appointees. "The principal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency."

Kennedy referenced the rapidly changing opinions on the issue since then, saying it was "fair to conclude that, until recent years, many citizens had not even considered the possibility that two persons of the same sex might aspire to occupy the same status and dignity as that of a man and woman in lawful marriage."

MORE ON CAPITAL

ADVERTISEMENT

He said the changing definition, as recognized by a number of states in recent years, made the protection of a traditional definition "more urgent" for some. "For others, however, came the beginnings of a new perspective, a new insight," he wrote.

Democrats, who helped pass the bill in 1996 but now almost uniformly oppose it, immediately cheered the decision.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, who has made LGBT issues a priority in the Senate, was one of the first New York officials to react, saying in a statement that she was "overjoyed" by the ruling.

“Today is a historic day for our country on its long march towards upholding the fundamental values this country was founded upon of fairness, equality and justice," she said in the statement. "I am overjoyed the Supreme Court has ruled to end the discrimination that had been enshrined into U.S. law."

In states like New York, where same-sex marriage is already recognized, the law broadens the benefits guaranteed to gay married couples, allowing them the same federal tax benefits as straight married couples.

The decision could also ease the path for a federal immigration reform bill currently being considered in the Senate. Vermont senator Patrick Leahy was prepared to offer an amendment recognizing same-sex couples in immigration proceedings, a move that would have made it more difficult to attract Republican support.

Rep. Jerry Nadler, who represents the plaintiff in the case, "a tremendous victory for Edie Windsor and for this nation.”

“We should rejoice and celebrate today, but our work is not yet done," said Nadler, who reiterated his call to repeal the law in its entirety.

Nadler was one of 65 Democrats who voted against the law in 1996; 118 Democrats voted for the law, including then-representative Chuck Schumer, who now supports its repeal.

Mayor Michael Bloomberg welcomed the ruling and said in a statement, "Those who still stand in opposition should remember that on matters of freedom and equality, history has not remembered obstructionists kindly – not on abolition, women’s suffrage, workers’ rights or civil rights. The same will be true on marriage equality."

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, released a statement cheering the ruling. "Today marks a great victory for the LGBT community, for all Americans, and for the dream our nation’s founders had when they first wrote that we are all created equal," and that "We are a nation founded on the belief that equality is not a gift to be granted or taken away, but an inexorable part of what makes us human."

Schumer released the following statement: "The march towards equality, which the Supreme Court interrupted yesterday, moved forward again today. Same sex marriage is supported by a majority of Americans, and to delay its advent any longer would be unfair to millions of LGBT couples and an affront to the American ideal. The Supreme Court did the right thing here and helps us understand that the march to equality in America is unstoppable."