Supreme Court, in next gay marriage case, eyes federal law

Anti-gay marriage protesters (L) try to convince Proposition 8 opponents (R) to get out of the way of their march in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, March 26, 2013. REUTERS/Jonathan
Anti-gay marriage protesters, left, try to convince Proposition 8 opponents to get out of the way of their march in front of the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Credit: Reuters

For a second day, the Supreme Court on Wednesday confronted the issue of gay marriage, hearing arguments on a U.S. law that denies federal benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

Almost two hours of oral argument before the court will focus on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), just a day after the nine justices considered the constitutionality of California’s Proposition 8 ban on gay marriage.

Both cases come before the court as polls show growing support among Americans for gay marriage but division among the 50 states. Nine states recognize it; 30 states have constitutional amendments banning it and others are in-between.

Rulings in both cases are expected by the end of June.

DOMA limits the definition of marriage as between a man and a woman. It permits benefits such as Social Security survivor payments and federal tax deductions only for married, opposite-sex couples, not for legally married same-sex couples.

President Bill Clinton signed DOMA into law in 1996 after it passed Congress with only 81 of 535 lawmakers opposing it. Clinton, a Democrat, earlier this month said that times have changed since then and called for the law to be overturned.

In the California case argued Tuesday, the justices seemed wary of endorsing a broad right for gay and lesbian couples to marry, as gay rights advocates had wanted. As a result, the Proposition 8 case is less likely to influence how the court approaches DOMA, which presents a narrower question.

The slightly lower-profile case being argued Wednesday focuses on whether Edith Windsor, who was married to a woman, should get the federal estate tax deduction available to heterosexuals when their spouses pass away.

Windsor’s marriage to Thea Spyer was recognized under New York law, but not under DOMA. When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor was forced to pay federal estate tax because the federal government would not recognize her marriage. She sued the government, seeking a $363,000 tax refund.

Windsor’s lawyers say the federal government has no role in defining marriage, which is traditionally left to states.

“It’s the states that marry people,” said James Esseks, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer who is part of Windsor’s legal team. “The federal government doesn’t do that.”

The roughly 133,000 gay couples nationwide, married in one of the nine states where it is legal, are not recognized as married by the federal government, Windsor’s supporters say.

Various groups are calling for DOMA to be struck down, such as the Business Coalition for DOMA Repeal, whose members include Marriott International Inc., Aetna Inc., eBay Inc. and Thomson Reuters Corp., the corporate parent of the Reuters news agency.

Obama turns back on DOMA

The Obama administration has agreed with Windsor that the section of law that defines marriage violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law. The Justice Department has therefore declined to defend the statute, as it normally would when a federal statute is challenged.

That has left a legal group acting on behalf of the Republican-dominated U.S. House of Representatives, known as the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) as the party defending the federal law. Its lawyer, Paul Clement, will argue that there are several reasons to support Congress’s decision to enact DOMA.

Noting the strong bipartisan support the law attracted when it was first enacted, Clement said in court papers that a move to strike it down as unconstitutional “would be wholly unprecedented.”

Before the court reaches that bigger question, preliminary matters could prevent the court deciding the case. One is whether BLAG has legal standing.

If such a procedural issue prevents the court from deciding the case on the merits, Windsor would win her refund. Yet DOMA would remain on the books in parts of the country where courts have not ruled on it. Further litigation would likely ensue.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Dogs are capable of feeling jealousy - U.S.…

By Curtis Skinner(Reuters) - Dogs are a man's best friend, and research released on Wednesday says canines want to keep it that way.Dogs are capable…

Local

G train riders brace for five-week shutdown

G train service will be suspended between Brooklyn and Queens between Friday, July 25, and Tuesday, Sept. 2.

International

Peaches Geldof's death was drugs-related, coroner rules

LONDON (Reuters) - The death of Peaches Geldof, the daughter of musician and Band Aid founder Bob Geldof, was drugs-related, a coroner ruled on Wednesday.The…

Local

Family, supporters gather in Brooklyn for Eric Garner…

Family members gathered on Wednesday for the funeral of Eric Garner, who died shortly after police put him in a banned chokehold as they arrested him.

Going Out

Where to go drinking on National Tequila Day…

Thursday is just close enough to the end of the week to make you envision yourself already sunning on a beach towel or lounging by…

Going Out

Things to do in NYC this week: July…

Performing arts A 70’s Summer Night Friday, 6:30 p.m. The Green Building 452 Union St., Gowanus $35, 347-529-6473 Party like it’s summer in the 1970s…

Going Out

5 must-try dishes at Edible Manhattan's Good Beer

Rooting out the exotic amid the New York City bar scene is noble quest. But if you’d like to have it all come to you,…

Books

Art imitates life (almost) in David Shapiro's new…

David Shapiro talks about his book, "You're Not Much Use To Anyone."

NFL

Jerry Reese confident with Giants, skipping countdown clocks…

Last year, Giants GM Jerry Reese installed a countdown clock in the locker room to inspire Big Blue to play in their own stadium for Super Bowl XLVIII.

MLB

Brandon McCarthy finds his calling on Twitter

Yankees starter Brandon McCarthy joined Twitter three year ago for the same reason many people do: to get news quickly.

Sports

NBA great LeBron James sends 800 cupcake apologies…

By Kim PalmerCLEVELAND (Reuters) - NBA star LeBron James, whose recent return to the Cleveland Cavaliers in his home state of Ohio sparked a frenzy…

NFL

Fantasy football: Johnny Manziel could give your running…

Fantasy football: Johnny Manziel could give your running game a boost

Food

Recharge with a post-workout smoothie from Nicky Hilton

Some people can roll out of bed right as their alarm goes off. And that alarm isn’t set for 20 minutes before they have to…

Education

Colleges are increasingly embracing the concept of gender-neutral…

  Northwestern University recently made headlines after announcing that it would be installing two gender-neutral bathrooms in the university's student center. “These are two gender-open…

Career

How to prepare to interview for your dream…

    Congratulations! You landed a job interview at your dream company! A lot of hard work has gone into determining which companies to apply…

Style

The shirtdress is a summer must-have

  We love throwing on our boyfriend’s shirt and a pair of jeans (no matter how much he grumbles that it’s his turn to wear the…