(Washington, D.C.) Today, the Supreme Court handed down its decisions in United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry. In a 5-4 decision written by Justice Kennedy, the Court ruled in Windsor that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits the federal government from recognizing marriages between same-sex couples, violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution. In Hollingsworth, which challenged the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment that revoked same-sex couples’ right to marry in that state, the Court held in a 5-4 decision written by Chief Justice Roberts that it lacked jurisdiction to consider the question because the private individuals who sought to defend the constitutionality of Proposition 8 over California’s objection did not have the right to do so. As a result, the district court decision finding Proposition 8 unconstitutional stands and same-sex marriages can now resume in California.
Marcia D. Greenberger, Co-President of the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), issued the following statement:
“Today’s decision in U.S. v. Windsor is an historic one. For the first time, the Supreme Court has ruled that, under our Constitution, the marriages of same-sex couples cannot be treated any differently than the marriages of opposite-sex couples. This is a landmark moment for LGBT people and their families around the country and for the principles of equal justice and fairness for all.
“By striking down DOMA, the Court has taken an historic step that will help same-sex married couples around the country in real and tangible ways. For example, as the Court explained, DOMA prevented families from receiving Social Security benefits upon the loss of a same-sex spouse or parent, benefits to which opposite-sex married couples are entitled. It denied health insurance to same-sex spouses of federal employees and increased the cost of health insurance provided to same-sex spouses by other employers by counting this health insurance as taxable income. It denied same-sex spouses the right offered by the Family and Medical Leave Act to take job-protected leave to care for a spouse with a serious medical condition. DOMA relegated same-sex couples to second-class marriages. Today, that second-class citizenship under federal law comes to an end.
“Today’s victory was a profound one. DOMA’s refusal to recognize same-sex marriages reflected and enforced gender stereotypes about men’s and women’s roles in marriage. The Supreme Court has repeatedly struck down laws enforcing overly broad gender stereotypes because they arbitrarily limit individuals’ most personal choices about their own lives. Today, in finding that DOMA had no legitimate purpose in disfavoring same-sex marriages, the Court continues that proud tradition. Moreover, while the Court did not rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8, its decision leaves the district court’s decision finding Proposition 8 unconstitutional the final word in this case, meaning that this is also a victory for Californians. Today is a day for celebration.”
The National Women’s Law Center co-authored amicus briefs in both cases, arguing that laws discriminating on the basis of sexual orientation, like Proposition 8 and DOMA, must be subject to heightened scrutiny under the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee, like laws that discriminate on the basis of race or sex. Those briefs are available at http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/nwlc_hollingsworth_amicus_brief.pdf and http://www.nwlc.org/sites/default/files/pdfs/nwlc_windsor_amicus_brief.pdf.
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