Another day, another landmark ruling.
The U.S. Supreme Court today in a 5-4 decision said the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law that denied benefits to same-sex married couples, is unconstitutional. We embedded the decision after the jump.
Under the law, gay couples who are legally married in their states were not considered married in the eyes of the federal government, and were ineligible for the federal benefits that come with marriage.
The case before the Supreme Court, U.S. v. Windsor, concerned Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, a lesbian couple who lived together in New York for 44 years and married in Canada in 2007.
When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was hit with $363,000 in federal estate taxes. Had the couple been considered by the federal government to be married, Windsor would not have incurred those taxes.
In a separate case, the justices decided not to take up a case challenging a California law banning same-sex marriages. So sayeth Pete Williams of NBC: "That decision means that gay marriage will once again be legal in California." Here's the decision.
More from SCOTUSBlog's Amy Howe on the court's decision:
Here's a Plain English take on Hollingsworth v. Perry, the challenge to the constitutionality of California's Proposition 8, which bans same-sex marriage: After the two same-sex couples filed their challenge to Proposition 8 in federal court in California, the California government officials who would normally have defended the law in court, declined to do so. So the proponents of Proposition 8 stepped in to defend the law, and the California Supreme Court (in response to a request by the lower court) ruled that they could do so under state law. But today the Supreme Court held that the proponents do not have the legal right to defend the law in court. As a result, it held, the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the intermediate appellate court, has no legal force, and it sent the case back to that court with instructions for it to dismiss the case.
UPDATE, 11:49 a.m.: Georgia's gay marriage ban, which was approved by voters in 2004, is unaffected by the decisions. Says Georgia Attorney General Sam Olens:
"Today, the Supreme Court of the United States held 5-4 that Congress violated equal protection when it defined marriage for federal purposes differently from the way the State of New York defined it. I disagree with the Court's decision. But it is important to understand what the decision does and does not mean.
Today's decision rests on the basic assumption - with which I strongly agree - that the power to define marriage is a power traditionally reserved to the States. The decision does not affect existing state definitions of marriage; in fact, it explicitly says that it is limited to marriages recognized by states as lawful. I agree with the Chief Justice that this limitation means what it says. The definition of marriage adopted by Georgia's voters is unaffected by today's decision."
UPDATE, 12:53 p.m.: Mayor Kasim Reed says in a statement:
"The Supreme Court ruling to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act was a courageous decision and is an enormous victory for loving, married couples and their families. It is my hope that today's decision puts our nation on an inevitable path toward the day when all citizens, regardless of their sexual orientation, can enjoy equal protection under the law and marry the ones they love. "
More to come, including possible impacts.
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