Marriage at the Supreme Court in 2013

On June 26, 2013 the Supreme Court of the United States announced its decisions in two landmark cases dealing with the freedom to marry. The Supreme Court’s historic decisions dramatically improved the lives of same-sex couples across the country, allowing many couples the ability to protect each other and their families.



In Windsor v. United States, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that denies legally married same-sex couples over 1,100 protections and responsibilities of marriage. By striking down Section 3 of DOMA, the Supreme Court affirmed that all loving and committed couples who marry deserve equal legal respect and treatment. It marked an enormous victory for equal justice under the law and ended DOMA’s two-tiered system for marriage, which for over 16 years forced the government to pick and choose among marriages and create a "gay exception" that only caused pain, uncertainty, and financial harm. Read the full ruling HERE.

The momentous ruling in the Windsor case marked the first step in ending the days of DOMA, a law that must still be fully overturned. We know that all married couples - including same-sex couples - should be treated as married by the federal government no matter where they live. Access to federal marital protections for married same-sex couples who have moved to states that discriminate against their marriages may take some work. Learn more about DOMA and the specifics of what the Windsor ruling meant for same-sex couples HERE. Read more about the background of the Windsor case HERE.

In a victory for the freedom to marry, the Supreme Court dismissed Hollingsworth v. Perry, declaring that the proponents of Proposition 8 lack legal standing to appeal the lower court rulings that have already invalidated Prop. 8. The historic ruling made permanent the August 2010 Federal District Court ruling that found Prop. 8 unconstitutional and will result in the swift restoration of the freedom to marry in California, making the state the thirteenth (plus Washington, D.C.) where same-sex couples can marry. After marriage is restored in California, nearly one third of the U.S. population - more than 93 million Americans - will live in a state where same-sex couples can marry. Read the opinion HERE.

Now, with the victory in the Perry case building on the momentum for marriage, we will continue working to win the freedom to marry in more states, fully end federal marriage discrimination, and increase our broad-based, bipartisan majority support for marriage across the country. With that work, we can set the stage for a return before the Supreme Court soon to finish the job. Read more about the background of the Perry case HERE.

Windsor v. United States: Background & History

The so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was signed into law by President Bill Clinton on September 21, 1996. DOMA mandates unequal treatment of legally married same-sex couples, selectively depriving them of the 1,138+ protections and responsibilities that marriage triggers at the federal level. DOMA's Section 3 defined marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman, thus prohibiting the federal government from recognizing legal marriages between same-sex couples. Those couples were subsequently denied a long list of important protections and responsibilities, including Social Security survivor benefits, immigration rights, family and medical leave, and the ability to pool resources as a family without unfair taxation.

Windsor v. United States dealt directly with DOMA's Section 3. The case dates back to November 2010, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of Edie Windsor, the 83-year-old widowed lesbian from New York who sued the government for the $363,000 in estate taxes that she was forced to pay under DOMA following the death of her late partner Thea Spyer in 2010. Windsor and Spyer were together for more than 40 years and wed in Canada in 2007. Because of DOMA, their marriage was not respected by the federal government.

On June 6, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Jones sided with Windsor by ruling DOMA's Section 3 - which explicitly restricts marriage to different-sex couples - unconstitutional. On October 18, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld that lower ruling.

The Supreme Court reviewed the case in 2013, hearing oral arguments for the case on Wednesday, March 27. On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, marking the first step in overturning the two-tiered system for marriage that DOMA created.

Read more about the Windsor case HERE. (Photo by Joshua Roberts/Reuters)



Hollingsworth v. Perry: Background & History

The Proposition 8 case, Hollingsworth v. Perry (formerly Perry v. Brown) dates back to May 2009, when the American Foundation for Equal Rights filed suit in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California to challenge the constitutionality of Proposition 8. Prop 8, which passed in California on November 4, 2008, was a citizens' initiative that stripped same-sex couples of the freedom to marry in the state, overturning a May 2008 decision from the California Supreme Court legalizing marriage across the state.

On August 4, 2010, Judge Vaughn Walker found Prop 8 to be unconstitutional and discriminatory, writing, "California has no interest in discriminating against gay men and lesbians." Proponents of Prop 8 appealed the decision to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit.

On February 7, 2012, the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed Judge Walker's ruling, stating, "Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples.

The Supreme Court reviewed the case in 2013, hearing oral arguments on Tuesday, March 26. On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Proposition 8, restoring the freedom to marry for Californians.

 Read more about the Prop 8 case HERE. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images North America)




Supreme Court Review of Marriage Cases Has Impact for Same-Sex Couples

The review of DOMA and Prop 8 could have far-ranging economic and regulatory implications for same-sex couples and their families, The Williams Institute reports. Since at least 20 percent of the estimated 645,000 same-sex couples nationally live in jurisdictions with the freedom to marry, DOMA repeal would have a profound impact on thousands of people, and Prop 8 repeal would help the nearly 100,000 same-sex couples living in California. READ MORE.

14 Supreme Court Cases: Marriage is a Fundamental Right

Since 1888, the U.S. Supreme Court has declared marriage a fundamental right for all individuals in fourteen cases. The American Foundation for Equal Rights has collected all 14 of them HEREREAD MORE

Prop 8 Case Timeline from American Foundation for Equal Rights

The Proposition 8 case has seen many high points and low points in the past four years. The American Foundation for Equal Rights tracks all of them HEREREAD MORE.

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