In a landmark decision, hailed by equal rights advocates all over the country, a divided U.S. Supreme Court struck down a section of DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) that denied legally married same-sex couples the same federal benefits that are provided to heterosexual spouses. Prior to the Court’s ruling, DOMA defined marriage as only between a man and a woman.
“Although Congress has great authority to design laws to fit its own conception of sound national policy, it cannot deny the liberty protected by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment,” said Justice Anthony Kennedy. Kennedy was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.
The case before the Court examined whether the federal government could deny heath, tax and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can legally marry. For example, in Massachusetts same-sex couples can be lawfully married, but before yesterday’s ruling their marriage wasn’t recognized by the federal government under the DOMA. Now, the federal government will have to recognize same-sex marriages from other states like Massachusetts and provide equal benefits to all.
In the Court’s written opinion, Justice Kennedy affirmed the rights of same-sex couples by recognizing that for those who “wished to be married, the state [of New York] acted to give their lawful conduct a lawful status. This status is a far-reaching legal acknowledgment of the intimate relationship between two people, a relationship deemed by the state worthy of dignity in the community equal with all other marriages…DOMA seeks to injure the very class New York seeks to protect.”
While the decision is seemingly sweeping in scope, it is limited to providing federal benefits to those who are lawfully married in states that recognize same-sex marriage. Currently thirty-five states have laws that ban same-sex marriage according to a report on CNN.com.