The long awaited response from the Supreme Court has finally arrived. In a very close decision in both cases, the Supreme Court issued rulings in two separate cases that ultimately bolstered advocates for same-sex marriage across the nation. While only a few states, including Massachusetts, have currently legalized same-same marriage, advocates feel that these rulings will ultimately help their case and lead to challenges to individual state law that currently ban such unions.
The first case before the Supreme Court dealt with the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The act, which ultimately allowed states to ban same-sex marriage, also mandated that same-sex couples are not recognized as spouses in regards to receiving federal benefits. The case was sparked by two women who were joined in a same-sex union. When one of the women died, the other inherited her estate. However, the IRS would not recognize her as the surviving spouse and required her to pay over $350,000 in estate taxes, which a surviving spouse would not have to do.
The Supreme Court, in a 5-4 ruling, ruled that DOMA was constitutional, and same-sex couples in states where such marriages are recognized are entitled to federal benefits. Despite the ruling, individual states are still able to determine on a state-by-state basis how to define marriage. This still leaves open the confusion regarding a couple married in a state such as Massachusetts that allows same-sex marriage who then moves to a state like Virginia that does not allow it.
While most people will see few immediate results based on the decision, advocates for same-sex marriage in Massachusetts and across the nation see this as a major victory. While states can still ban certain marriages, many feel that this is an opening to begin to challenge the bans in individual states. In addition to striking down DOMA, the Supreme Court’s ruling on the second case effectively allows same-sex marriages to continue in California, leaving the current count on states that allow same-sex marriages at 13.
Source: The New York Times, “Supreme Court Bolsters Gay Marriage With Two Major Rulings,” Adam Liptak, June 26, 2013