How Will DOMA Affect Individuals In Other States?
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court overturned the federal 17-year-old DOMA act (Defense of Marriage Act), leaving many people wondering the effects this ruling will have on same-sex couples in their state. Hopefully the following information might be helpful when trying to understand this major decision in the United States v. Windsor case. In order to dispel a misconception, it should be noted that this decision does not require states to recognize same-sex marriages.
The primary point to take away from this ruling is that it will ONLY affect individuals residing in the 13 states* and the District of Columbia that have legalized gay marriage. So, in Ohio, the DOMA ruling will not have any real present substantive affect. But it may end up becoming a step forward in legalizing gay marriage.
Now that DOMA has been overturned, legally married same-sex couples in those specific states will be granted the same federal benefits to which heterosexual married couples have been entitled. These benefits include social security, estate tax, joint tax-returns, military benefits, health coverage, and child custody rights. In total, this ruling will affect over 1,000 federal benefits afforded to “married” couples. So, for those individuals, it could have a major financial impact. Married, same-sex couples will also be able to benefit from retroactive tax treatment for years that are still open (generally 4 years).
Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion in the ruling, was quoted saying, “DOMA humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. The law in question makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” Kennedy, along with 4 other Justices, voided DOMA on a 5th Amendment argument. Kennedy also wrote that, “While the Fifth Amendment itself withdraws from Government the power to degrade or demean in the way this law does, the equal protection guarantee of the Fourteenth Amendment makes that Fifth Amendment right all the more specific and all the better understood and preserved.” United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ___ (2013).
DOMA Rendered Unconstitutional
Basically, the Court turned to the guaranteed due process rights that every citizen maintains under the 5th Amendment, and then used that argument along with the equal protection clause, which prohibits discrimination against a specific class without a legitimate government reason. Justice Kennedy could not find any legitimate reason to withhold these benefits from same-sex couples, rendering DOMA unconstitutional.
Supreme Court Ruling On DOMA:
Voted Against DOMA: Justice Kennedy, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan.
Voted DOMA should stand: Chief Justice Roberts, Justices Scalia, Thomas, and Alito.
* Massachusetts, California, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Washington, Maine, Maryland, Rhode Island, Delaware, and Minnesota.
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Charles W. Morrison
Charles "Bill" Morrison is Of Counsel with Dayton, Ohio, law firm, Holzfaster, Cecil, McKnight & Mues and the managing editor of the Ohio Criminal Defense Law Blog. He is also a member of the Association of Ohio Criminal Defense Lawyers.