The Supreme Court of the United States has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act, which refused to recognize marriage between same-sex couples, is unconstitutional.
In a 5-4 vote this morning, the U.S. Supreme Court declared that the Defense of Marriage Act, better known as DOMA, is unconstitutional. Signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, DOMA prevented same-sex couples whose marriage was legally recognized in their home states from receiving federal benefits like Social Security. The Justice Department of the Obama Administration had stopped defending DOMA in 2011 after concluding that it was unconstitutional, leading House Republicans to take up the law’s defense.
“The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion. “By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”
Justices Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan were in the majority, while dissent came from Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Samuel Alito and Clarence Thomas.
Striking down DOMA will have a wide-ranging impact, as it affects roughly 1100 federal laws relating to veterans benefits, medical leave and taxes. It’s also the strongest signal yet of a growing willingness to recognize and accept equal marriage rights for all people at the highest levels of the legislature and judiciary.
In the same session, the Court ruled 5-4 that the defendants in the case of California’s “Proposition 8,” which banned same-sex marriage but was later overturned as unconstitutional by the United States District Court, did not have standing in the court and thus dismissed it, effectively bringing same-sex marriage back to the state.
The full text of the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act is available in PDF format at supremecourt.gov.