In the now-famous case, titled United States v. Windsor, the U.S. Supreme Court examined the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act to decide whether a portion of the act was unconstitutional. Specifically, the U.S. Supreme Court was deciding whether Section 3 of the act, which functionally denied federal benefits for same-sex couples, was constitutional. Ms. Windsor was married to her partner, and when her partner died, she was denied the exemption for spouses under federal law for estate inheritance. She was forced to pay over $300,000.00 in taxes to the federal government under DOMA, and she filed a lawsuit to contest this provision. Over the years, the case wound its way through our Appeals circuits and found its way in front of the Supreme Court.
The Court found that Section 3 of the act, which denied federal benefits to same-sex couples, violated the Equal Protection Clause of the constitution. Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion, and he stated, “DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.” Under the new ruling, same-sex couples can apply for federal spousal benefits, tax exemptions and tax credits as any opposite-sex couple would under existing law. The Court recognized that there was no rational basis for the law under their analysis, and struck Section 3 of DOMA down.
While the case is a seminal moment for the same-sex marriage movement, it also did not strike down DOMA entirely. There are remaining questions about whether a State that does not recognize gay marriage is required to give full faith and credit to a marriage from a state that allows same-sex marriage. The Supreme Court did not answer this question, as it was not presented to them in this case. Future cases are bound to find their way to the U.S. Supreme Court that challenges this provision of DOMA, but for now the same-sex marriage movement has scored an important victory for their cause.