By Scott Hoffman, ERC Communications Intern
Next week, the U.S. Supreme Court is slated to hear Windsor v. United States, a case challenging the constitutionality of section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). If DOMA is struck down, legally married same-sex couples would receive all the federal rights and benefits already granted to heterosexual married couples, including Social Security payments, American residency for foreign spouses and health insurance coverage.
As a gay male living in Maryland, a state that recently legalized marriage equality; I hope that the Court strikes down DOMA, as it may directly influence future choices in my own life.
With its passage in 1996, DOMA established marriage on the federal level as exclusively between one man and one woman. Not only viewed as unfair by many individuals, the law also resulted in discrepancies in states where same-sex marriage is legal. For example, a lesbian couple who is legally married in Massachusetts would be expected to file joint state income tax returns, but would be prohibited from filing their federal returns jointly. In Windsor, the plaintiff was legally married to her wife in New York and recognized by the state as a married couple, but was required to pay federal estate taxes after her wife died, which would not be required of the surviving spouse in an opposite-sex marriage. In Windsor, the Department of Justice stated that the Administration’s position is that DOMA, signed into law by former President Bill Clinton in 1996, is unconstitutional. This position was taken after President Obama instructed the Justice Department to stop defending the constitutionality of DOMA.
Action is also being taken legislatively to address these issues. Recent sessions in Congress have produced a bill – The Respect for Marriage Act – which aims to repeal DOMA. Yet, efforts have stalled due to a lack of support. This failure is extremely puzzling when one considers the evolving attitudes of the American public. A recent Washington Post poll shows that nearly 75 percent of voters believe that marriage equality is a constitutional right. (more…)