Supreme Court Rules DOMA Unconstitutional

The Supreme Court today finally issued its decision on one of the most landmark gay rights cases of the century. By a vote of 5-4, the Court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.

United States v. Windsor, the case brought by 84-year-old Edie Windsor, challenged DOMA on the premise that the law did not offer equal protection to people in same-sex marriages. After the death of her partner of 42 years, Thea Spyer, whom she married legally in Canada in 2007, Windsor was hit with more than $360,000 in inheritance taxes because the United States did not recognize their marriage, a burden she would not have faced had she married a man.

The Court ruled that DOMA is “unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.” Here’s the full opinion (PDF). According to the SCOTUS liveblog of the opinions:

“DOMA singles out a class of persons deemed by a State entitled to recognition and protection to enhance their own liberty…In determining whether a law is motivated by improper animus or purpose, discriminations of an unusual character especially require careful consideration. DOMA cannot survive under these principles.

The decision also seems to hint that DOMA was created for little other reason than to deliberately discriminate against same-sex couples and uses “careful consideration” to conclude that this reasoning isn’t valid or just:

“In determining whether a law is motivated by improper animus or purpose, discriminations of an unusual character especially require careful consideration. DOMA cannot survive under these principles.”

Hundreds of journalists, activists and political analysts have speculated for months about this ruling and the upcoming Prop 8 ruling. While their predictions may have differed in the details, all agree that the people propelling these cases are just as important to the gay rights movement as the decisions themselves. Take this article from the New Yorker‘s Richard Socarides, published Monday:

Both of these cases involve real people. The four plaintiffs in the California Prop 8 case — Kris Perry, Sandy Stier, Paul Katami, and Jeff Zarrillo — each had to testify at a trial and did so compellingly, sharing with the public the intimacies of their relationships and why marriage mattered so much to each of them. And then there is the gay-rights movement’s new outsized hero and champion, the plaintiff Edith Windsor, an eighty-three-year-old lesbian widower who is a distinctly sympathetic figure. Because of DOMA, she had to pay hundreds of thousand of dollars in estate taxes after the death of her wife, with whom she had lived for decades, and who she cared for as multiple sclerosis confined her to a wheelchair and took her life.

The easily recognizable Windsor is often stopped on the street in her Greenwich Village neighborhood and thanked profusely by strangers. When she is introduced at events now, she receives a standing ovation, often without uttering a single word. Since the beginning of her case, as she has gone from anonymous senior citizen to high profile Supreme Court plaintiff, she has conducted herself with such authenticity and dignity and in such a compelling manner that she will undoubtedly be the human face of the gay-rights movement — perhaps its own Rosa Parks — for a long time to come.

Indeed, this is a historic day for LGBT people all over the country and all over the world. While marriage equality is certainly not the be-all and end-all of the gay rights movement, the abolition of DOMA signals an unmistakable shift in how the United States views and treats its lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender citizens. Not only will same-sex couples finally have access to the 1,138 federal rights, benefits and privileges they are denied on the basis of sexual orientation, but they will also undoubtedly experience firsthand the result of changing attitudes about LGBT equality. Public support for marriage equality is at an all-time high, and while this ruling may bring out some naysayers, it is certain we’ll see more and more LGBT people and their allies coming forward to voice their support. This change may come slowly, as all major social change does, but it will happen nonetheless. It’s already started.

About Camille Beredjick

Camille is a twentysomething working in the LGBT nonprofit industry. She runs an LGBT news blog at

  • Baby_Raptor

    Fucking party time!

    I cannot wait to see the sadz from the bigots! Bryan Fisher is already melting down on Twitter!

  • MartinRC

    This isn’t just a historic day for LGBT people, this is a historic day for all Americans who believe in human rights and equality for all.

  • Spazticus

    I couldn’t agree more.

  • Holytape

    Just imagine if McCain had won. It was 5-4 against DOMA, but would have been 7-2 for DOMA. Even thou I don’t agree with some of Obama’s stances, I got to say I’m really glad he got elected when he did.

  • Jim Charlotte

    Question about DOMA ruling: If somebody who lives here in NC gets married in NY then they can still file a joint federal return while living in NC?

  • Cyrus Palmer

    I’m embarrassed that it was such a close thing. Wasn’t freedom and equality for everyone one of the foundations of the formation of this country? How can four of the highest judges in the nation vote to strip rights away from other human beings 237 years later?

  • Brian Westley

    Technically, only Section 3 of DOMA, since that was the only part before the court.

  • Brian Westley

    According to people on the Volokh Conspiracy legal blog, yes.

  • Epinephrine

    We have no power under the Constitution to invalidate this democratically adopted legislation

    – Scalia

    Hey Scalia! Fuck you!

  • Steve UK

    Congratulations from a British supporter, may it happen in this country .

  • Matt

    Ol fucking asshole windbag. There is not one good thing about that man.

  • observer

    “…this ruling may bring out some naysayers”
    To which I say:

  • baal

    Is this the same Scalia from the VRA case of two days ago? He had no trouble finding enough power under the Constitution to invalidate section 4 of that democratically adopted legislation.

  • baal

    From Roberts dissent:

    Interests in uniformity and stability amply justified Congress’s decision to retain the definition of marriage that, at that point, had been adopted by every State in our Nation, and every nation in the world.
    Post, at 19–20 (dissenting opinion)

    My paraphrase:
    Since it’s a settled issue (no SSM) at law, we shouldn’t rock the boat?

    Alito is an idiot:

    …what she {plaintiff} seeks is a holding that enshrines in the Constitution a particular understanding of marriage under which the sex of the partners makes no difference. The Constitution, however, does not dictate that choice. It leaves the choice to the people, acting through their elected representatives at both the federal and state levels.

    My paraphrase:
    Since DOMA was passed legally and the constitution didn’t explicitly demand SSM, it’s constitutional. This boggles the mind. Under an ‘explicit’ = ‘dictate’ standard, we’d have to junk nearly all of the USC (federal law).

  • Baby_Raptor

    He wasn’t saying that yesterday when he invalidated the Voting Rights Act, Fucking hypocritical pig.

  • C Peterson

    So true. The fact that four people on the Supreme Court- the last defense of our rights- could possibly vote in favor of discrimination, is frightening. This court has to change, and change soon.

  • Tim

    Congratulations America from across the pond. The USA is always at its best when it sticks to its founding principles of liberty and justice.

    I know marriage equality has a long way to go before being fully implemented, but I do feel that we are seeing some momentum building. It is no longer just a European thing or a Northern hemisphere thing either.

    Who will be next – England & Wales, Scotland, Nepal, Luxemberg?
    And will any legislature bring it is as beautiflly as the Kiwi’s did with their Moiri love song in the chamber?

  • Feminerd

    There’s one good thing. His dissents are wicked funny to read sometimes, even when what he’s saying is dead wrong. He makes fun of the other justices by name sometimes. Considering the writing capabilities of some of the other justices, the entertainment factor of his opinions is a nice change of pace sometimes.

    I can’t think of any other good things, though …

  • Tobias2772

    I am glad for gay people (2% of the population) , But I cannot help but be sad for all of the people of color (35%) who are about to be disenfranchised by state legislatures all over our country. It blows my mind that both of thses decisions could come from the same court, in the same week.

  • Tobias2772

    If he could have stopped at, “It leaves the choice to the people” I could have bought that. These guys just don’t know when to shut up.

  • ortcutt

    So, he doesn’t think Marbury v. Madison is good law?

  • Tobias2772

    I think there are lots of questions to come about state laws, and the full faith and credit clause, and the 14th Amendment.

  • Spuddie

    And with that a hearty “fuck you” goes to Mr. Fisher, Mr. Phelps and the entire hierarchy of the LDS and Catholic Churches.

  • Spuddie

    Probably but they may not be able to file a state income tax return jointly. The full faith and credit/14th Amendment issues were avoided altogether.

    The current case was presented in a way to actually avoid such issues and make it a states rights one. You have to hand it to the plaintiff’s counsel here. Very creative approach. They took arguments usually reserved for supporting discrimination and turned them on their head. A jurisprudence masterpiece.

  • Holytape

    Scalia is a smart, witty, intelligent shit of a person. The kind of person you could see someone else having a beer with. The kind of person, whom if you saw stranded next to the side of the road, you would at least have to make an excuse to yourself about why you sped on by.

  • AxeGrrl

    SO happy for Edie today :)

    Edie Windsor, the 83-year-old lesbian who sued the United States government for discriminatory treatment under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), said she felt “honored, humbled and overjoyed” after Wednesday’s ruling came down.

    Windsor sued the government because under DOMA, it did not recognize her marriage to her late partner, Thea Spyer. After living together in New York for more than four decades, Windsor and Spyer finally married in 2007, when Spyer became seriously ill. When Spyer died in 2009, she left Windsor her estate. Because DOMA didn’t recognize their marriage — even though the state of New York did — the IRS hit Windsor with $363,053 in estate taxes.

    Windsor’s attorney Roberta Kaplan said that Windsor will get every cent of her money back — with interest.

  • DeepFriedFT

    Completely agree Martin.

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    He’s also very funny when used as part of a list of oxymorons: Military intelligence, jumbo shrimp, Justice Scalia…

  • C.L. Honeycutt

    Scalia claims to be a Constitutional Originalist, which means (to him) that the Constitution exists to defend his bigotries when convenient; otherwise he magically forgets it exists.

  • jasmine999

    Exactly how I feel.

  • Feminerd

    I think the right thing to do would be to extend the VRA’s provisions to all the states. It won’t happen, of course, but it should. That would take care of Scalia’s objections!

  • I want to change

    Don’t you know that we have a creator? Don’t you know that you and I will have to stand before Him? He will show us our whole lives.. We will have to give an account for things we did and did not do while here on earth. He has a standard. One that is not high. He wants our hearts.. He wants our time. Let’s start now.. It’s not too late.

    Father God, I don’t want to be this way anymore. Please come into my life and make me new.. I’m so sorry for breaking your commandments. I’m sorry for breaking your heart over and over and over again.. Please forgive me. Please guide me and give me the strenghth to do your will. In your son Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.

  • Sideshow Billybob

    We’re sorry; you have reached a number that has been disconnected or is
    no longer in service. If you feel you have reached this recording in
    error, please check the number and try your call again.

  • allein

    Wow, 30+ comments before we got one of these! I’m pleasantly surprised!

  • allein

    Haha! Thanks for the laugh before I head to bed. :-D

  • Heathen Mike

    Tobias, I feel the same way. But Chris Hayes on MSNBC cheered me up a bit by pointing out that the injustice of the equal rights voting rights mess of SCOTUS actually will probably galvanize the ever-growth demographics of youth/minorities/progressives even more, so that we’ll likely have even higher Democratic turn-out than we otherwise would have. Look at 2012. There was already horrendous conservative foul play going on to undercut Democratic voters, and it seemed to backfire. Let’s hope (and work for) that continued outcome!

  • Heathen Mike

    What an awesome day for justice! Maybe Scalia will have a stroke from the stress of the “Gayness” of it all and be forced to retire. One can dream…
    Hey! We need a new blog topic here just about Michele Bachman’s public speech responding to the SCOTUS rulings. It’s priceless, the logic is so incredibly convoluted. Before she got around to invoking God’s will, she tried to point out that the Court had violated the Constitutional principle of respecting the will of the people. Ignoring, of course, the fact that the Bill of Rights specifically is meant to protect minorities from the tyranny of the majority, and ignoring at the same time that DOMA itself sought to block the future will of the electorate by enshrining for all time into law the narrow definition of marriage as “one man–one woman.” Bachman appealed to the will of the people, as she defined it, as the victim of the Court, ignoring laughably the fact that the populations of both California and the U.S. as a whole no longer support the laws that the Court just struck down. What is that woman smoking? Oh yeah, that’s right! Jesus Juice!!

  • Rich Wilson

    That’s discussed in this new conference at about 22:00 (shortly after Pelosi’s awesome response to a question about what she thinks about something Bachman says)

    Mostly it’s talking about a to-be-introduced “Respect For Marriage Act” which will clarify those kinds of confusion.

    (sorry, trying to get the exact timestamp I lost the video, but it’s about there)

  • midnight rambler

    Yes. The complication arises with things that are benefits guaranteed by federal law but actually implemented at a local level or by private employers, such as family leave (not sure if that’s actually governed by any federal law, just giving it as an example). For those things, it may still depend on whether the state you’re in recognizes your marriage.

  • Tobias2772

    I don’t disagree and I take hope that you are right, but this is how the conservatives work. They just keep grinding away at stuff like this. ALEC and other groups devote alot of time and money to their agenda and eventually wear progressives down or catch them napping. It’s so damn unrewarding to spend all of my energy just to keep these guys from dragging us back to the Dark Ages when I so want to be workingon the issues of tomorrow. It’s like the filibuster that we just saw in Texas. Those asshats are going to get their way eventually. Shit !!

  • Tobias2772

    Yeah, I agree on both counts. Scalia knows it too. Man, it burns me when that guy starts pontificating. I try to avoid hating as being self-defeating, but it’s hard to find a redeeming factor in that guy. Forgetaboutit.

  • closetatheist

    This article almost made me cry, I’m so relieved that the appropriate and fair decision was made. This is a HUGE step in the right direction, America!

  • Jitterbits

    Didn’t Jesus say something about praying loudly and in public? Pretty sure that would include internet comment threads.

    BTW, not one single person read your post and thought to themselves, “Gee, they’re right! I’m gonna say that prayer and change my beliefs!” You offered no compelling evidence or argument even. Just a very strange prayer.

  • Jitterbits

    When talking about the will of the people, she also completely disregarded that a majority of people support marriage equality. These people don’t have even a stub of a leg to stand on.

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