We have frequently discussed the federal law known as the Defense of Marriage Act. Passed in 1996, the law essentially prevents the federal government from recognizing as married same-sex couples who are legally wed in individual states. Of course, New York allows gay couples the right to marry. Under state law, all couples, gay and straight alike, are treated the same. However, while in most cases the federal government defers to state law on legal marriages, that is not so for same-sex couples. To this day they are treated as legal strangers for federal purposes, creating a whole host of complex long-term planning, tax, and government support complications.
New York DOMA Challenge
Over the past few years a few legal challenges have been heard in federal courts arguing that DOMA violates federal constitutional principles. In virtually all of those cases the courts have ruled in favor of the plaintiffs, agreeing that parts of the law are unconstitutional. However, considering the magnitude of the issue, it was almost guaranteed that the decision would ultimately lie with the U.S. Supreme Court.
Last year the Supreme Court agreed to hear one particular DOMA challenge filed by a New York woman who was forced to pay significant federal estate taxes after her partner’s passing, even though the couple was legally married. If they had been an opposite sex couple, then there would have been no estate tax burden. The case, United States v. Windsor, will be argued in front of the high court later this month.
The matter will be heard in conjunction with another gay marriage-related case, Hollingsworth v. Perry. That matter is somewhat different, addressing the substantive rights of states to ban same-sex couples from getting married. It centers around the “Proposition 8” measure which passed in California banning gay marriage in 2008.
Gay marriage obviously remains a hot-button topic. As such it is perhaps not surprising that a wide range of advocates have submitted “amicus” briefs to the Supreme Court. These are “friends of the court” briefs which are offered by various individuals, organizations, and groups intended to make different legal arguments. Many different briefs have been submitted in the DOMA case. The SCOTUSBlog has helpfully compiled virtually all of them. If you are interested, please Click Here, to take a look at the full list and view any briefs of interest.