Nov 20, 2020 in Case Studies

Supreme Court

This is considered a landmark case in the history of cases ever presented in the US Supreme Court. The most intriguing part was when the Supreme Court rendered section three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. They pointed out that it went against the basic principles of Equal Protection by giving an unjust treatment to marriages that were accorded equal status in the face of the state law in a different way under the federal law (McNamara, 2013). The majority perspective was led by Justice Kennedy which was then supported by others: namely Justices Kagan, Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Breyer. On the dissention, there were Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Alito, Scalia, and Thomas.

This case is significant in the history of the United States Supreme Court as it was just in time when same-sex marriages were beginning to be recognized in the American society. The principal issues before the Supreme Court were whether Section three of the Defense of Marriage Act violates the equality in protection laws, guaranteed by the 5th Amendment and applied to individuals in gay marriages who are lawfully joined in a marriage under the state laws. The second issue was whether the two parties with cases before the court had a strong appeal to the court. The DOMA denies numerous federal rights to legally married gay couples. Those benefits range from family medical leave to social security benefits. It is recognizable that the stupendous efforts of two groups of interest. First one was the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) that was at uttermost defense of the DOMA at District Court for Southern District of New York. The second referred to the justice defense system saw the case progress from the district court to court of appeal and then to the Supreme Court. Besides, a number of religious and social organizations requested to be joined in the case owing to the fact that the matter was gaining national importance. It also divided Americans especially the liberals and conservators.


The onset of everything was when Thea Spyer and Edith Windsor, married lesbians, found themselves in a legal crisis. This happened after Spyer passed away in 2009 and Windsor had to claim to be exempted from the federal tax. The law denied her the exemption she sought since it provides that the word spouse is only applicable to same-sex marriages. Thus, the denial compelled her to give a payment of $363,053 as an estate tax. As a result, a law suit was filed on 9th November, 2010 against the US where Windsor was seeking to be refunded pointing out that the DOMA chose legal gay marriages for different treatment as compared to other situations, without proper justification.

The case attracted attention of many organizations which sought to ensure their belief system was not breached. On 2rd February, 2011, a statement came from the Attorney General on behalf of administration that consented to the plaintiffs standing that the Act was a total violation to the United States Constitution. Moreover, he even added that he would exempt himself from defending legislations in judiciary. Nevertheless, on 6th June, 2012, Judge Barbara Jones made a ruling that the act was unconstitutional considering the due process guaranteed by the 5th Amendment. Thereby, she issued an order for the federal government to give the tax refund plus interest (Plumer, 2013). The case finally reached the Supreme Court thanks to an immediate appeal by the Department of Justice as well as the BLAG. In place of amicus curiae, Vickie Jackson a professor at Harvard Law School specializing in the constitutional law was appointed by the Supreme Court to delineate two other questions it had posed before. The BLAG continued efforts: also, they filled another petition seeking certiorari, purposely to allow the court make a ruling regarding constitutionality of the Act (Archibald, 2013).

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The Obamas administration insists that the section three, with its definition of marriage as a union between a male and a female, is unconstitutional as long as equal protection clause is upheld. It advocates for an amplified scrutiny of laws found to show partiality on the basis of sexual orientation. On the other hand, the BLAG argues that the court needs to apply the review on the rational basis and lowest level of scrutiny since the LGBT community is hardly a protected class. The duo parties had a consensus that the Supreme Court was accorded full jurisdiction of hearing the case. Afterward, the court appointed amici curiae who argued that overturning the DOMA does not present any threat to the Congress. In addition, since the BLAG went against the basic principle of the separation of powers, the controversy of the Article III never existed.

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The DOMA protagonists asserted that the law guaranteed federal government revenues through the avoidance of social security payments to same-sex couples and saving tax (Geidner, 2012). On the other hand, the BLAG upheld that the DOMA presents the government with the best financial interests because recognizing these types of marriage would affect federal the budget negatively. Hence, it would be worrisome to overturn the DOMA. According to the US v. Windsor case, classification done on the basis of sexual orientation qualifies in the four factors that were founded to trigger the amplified scrutiny. First, the US claimed that gay and lesbians for a long time has become victims of discrimination such as criminal prosecution, employment, consensual sexual conduct, voter referenda and hate crimes among others from the government itself according to Windsor. Second, sexual orientation is independent of peoples ability to make the societal contribution. Third, the sexual orientation is the only discernable feature that denotes them as discrete minority people. What is more, the US contends that distinguishing feature must be obvious or immutable for it to be applicable. Four, the Obama Administration insists that gays and lesbians are politically powerless and a minority group.

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On 26th March, 2013, the Supreme Court gave a five to four judgments, which declared that the section three have breached standard requirements of the US Constitution thus being a form of deprivation of liberty of individuals protected by 5th amendment (Mendes, 2013). This decision is considered a historic one as the fruits were noticed immediately having influenced other decisions in other courts, such as in Hollingsworth v. Perry case. In this case, the court issued a five to four judgments on a case in California to bar gay marriages. The decision legalized gay marriages. It followed the court ruling stating that those who presented the case lacked enough standing to make an appeal in a federal court.

The impact of the interest groups greatly affected the outcome of the courts verdict. Despite the court not ruling in their favor, four out of nine judges have dissented the verdict. It also ensured that the case was discussed in the highest court in the land attracting attention of the federal government, including the President and the Attorney General, religious organizations and the global watch. The BLAGs contribution to the case became like an eye-opener to the US citizens to exercising their monopoly of choice in whether to enter into same-sex marriages or not. In one way or another, the GLBT community saw this as a victory since it boosted their recognition in the economic structure of the U.S. This indicates that same-sex marriage is a critical matter in the United States because, for a long time, social and religious environment have never been in its favor. It became a landmark ruling as it opened more doors just not for marriages to continue taking place, but also for the couples to enjoy benefits and rights as the example of other marriages. In fact, according to Obama, the ruling was a great victory for the American democracy.


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