SCOTUS Decides DOMA and Same-Sex Marriage Cases

June 26, 2013
Louis Sternberg


Today, the United States Supreme Court decided two landmark cases regarding same-sex marriage.

The first case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, sought involved the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8. Proposition 8 (commonly known as simply “Prop 8“), passed in 2008 by referendum by the California State voters, amended the state constitution to state that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” A same-sex couple seeking to marry challenge the constitutionality of the law sued state officials in federal court.  California state officials decided not to defend the law and, after allowing proponents of the law (as opposed to California state officials) to defend its constitutionality, the District Court ruled the law unconstitutional.  The proponents then appealed to the Court of Appeals and lost once again.  Today the Supreme Court ruled that the proponents do not even have standing to appeal from the District Court’s decision and the case was dismissed on procedural grounds.  The Hollingsworth v. Perry decision can be found here.

The second case, United States v. Windsor, involved the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) passed by Congress in 1996. That section defined marriage, for purposes of eligibility for receipt of certain benefits, as a union between a man and woman.  The purpose of the statute was to exclude married same-sex couples from receiving benefits such as spousal insurance coverage for federal employees, social security survivor benefits and the ability to file joint income taxes are a married couple.  The Court declared that section of DOMA to be unconstitutional “as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”  The U.S v. Windsor decision can be found here.


What do these decisions mean and what happens from here?

  1. These cases DO NOT mean that all states must allow same-sex marriage or must recognize same-sex marriages.  The holding in Hollingsworth is very limited and the decision does not require that states permit same-sex marriages.
  2. The Windsor case DOES mean that the federal government cannot discriminate against legally married same-sex couples.
  3. These cases DO NOT stand for the proposition that sexuality now constitutes a “suspect classification” under Equal Protection jurisprudence.  If the court had ruled that one’s sexuality constituted a “suspect class,” then any law that discriminates in favor of or against people of a certain sexuality must be judged with “heightened scrutiny.”
  4. It is the job of the states, not the federal government to regulate and define marriage.