U.S. Supreme Court to Review Challenges to DOMA and Prop. 8

Today the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to review Edie Windsor’s challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (Windsor v. United States). The ACLU brought the case forward because it is fundamentally unfair that the legal marriages of couples like Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer are not respected by their own government. The Court also agreed today to hear the challenge to Prop. 8’s ban on same-sex marriage (Hollingsworth v. Perry), and will decide the constitutionality of California initiative that limited marriage to a man and a woman.

Edie’s case illustrates the harms caused by DOMA in a very human way. Edie and Thea built a life together over four decades. But when Thea died and Edie lost her soul mate, Edie had to pay a hefty penalty of more than $350,000 in estate taxes just because she was married to a woman, instead of a man. That should never happen to any committed couple. If Edie had been married to a man, no estate tax would have been owed.

The ACLU won its case in the Second Circuit Court this past October, with a ruling that struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The circuit court decided that when the government discriminates against lesbians and gay men, the discrimination should be presumed to be unconstitutional and the government has to have a very good reason for the discrimination. This was the first federal appeals court to decide that a higher standard of review applies to sexual orientation discrimination. Even though the ACLU won that case and is thrilled with the appellate decision, only the Supreme Court can correct this injustice once and for all.

Prop. 8 and DOMA are both important injustices that need to be fixed.  But they are also different problems. Prop. 8 prevents lesbian and gay couples in California from getting married at all. The Court granted view on two essential questions: does California’s exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage violate the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution; and do the backers of Prop. 8 have standing to defend it in court in the first place?

Edie’s case challenges the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits the federal government from recognizing the marriages of gay and lesbian couples who are already married.

Both Prop 8 and DOMA violate the Constitution by treating gay and lesbian couples as second-class citizens, and we are hopeful that the Supreme Court will strike both down. Arguments in the cases most likely will take place by March 2013, with a decision expected by the end of June.

The recent election was a watershed moment in the fight for LGBT equality. For the first time, voters explicitly said yes to the freedom to marry. And they did it not once, but in three states, while voting to prohibit discrimination in a fourth. These votes, along with the fact that 54% of all Americans support the freedom to marry for same-sex couples, are strong evidence for the Court that the country is ready for this.

The ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties fights for equal protection under the law for all.