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
Local

Drive charged in fatal hit and run, police…

The NYPD has arrested a man they say is responsible for a fatal hit and run in Manhattan last weekend. Doohee Cho, 33, was hit…

Local

Mayor de Blasio raises minimum wage for some…

Mayor Bill de Blasio signed an executive order Tuesday morning that will raise the minimum wage for workers employed by private companies that receive more…

National

3 myths about the working poor

Linda Tirado works to debunk some common stereotypes about the working poor in her new book, "Hand to Mouth."

Money

Lawsuit funding advances: friend or foe?

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article Many plaintiffs awaiting resolution of their lawsuit or legal claim often find themselves in a tricky financial…

Going Out

Which NYC restaurant lost its three-star Michelin rating?

A record 73 restaurants in New York City collected coveted Michelin stars on Tuesday as a mix of trendy spots and fine-dining stalwarts underscored the…

Entertainment

Interview: Metro chats with filmmaker Meir Kalmanson, man…

A New York filmmaker hands out smiles to its residents.

Television

TV watch list, Tuesday, Sept. 30: 'Selfie,' 'Utopia'…

'Selfie' This modern day take on the "My Fair Lady" story stars John Cho in the Henry Higgins role. Perhaps instead of "the rain in…

Music

Can't-miss weekend events continue to attract the masses

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article Earlier this summer, the Firefly Music Festival drew crowds of tens of thousands of people to Dover, Delaware.…

MLB

Mets 2014 report card

The Mets wrapped up their eight straight season without a playoff appearance last weekend. Needless to say, they fell a bit short of general manager…

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, Packers, Ravens, Chargers climb

NFL Power Rankings: Cowboys, Packers, Ravens, Chargers climb

NFL

Ryan Quigley making a big impact for Jets…

Ryan Quigley, now in his second year as the Jets punter, had an exceptional afternoon with six punts for an average of 51.7 yards per punt.

NFL

3 positives to take from Jets loss to…

The Jets suffered another loss Sunday — 24-17 to the Lions — but the reason why it hurts so much for Jets fans is that…

Style

Products that support breast cancer awareness and research

Asics GT-1000, $100 Asics’ third pink collection in collaboration with Christina Applegate’s Right Action for Women includes this pink-accented version of its best-selling GT-1000 3…

Wellbeing

Dr. Marisa Weiss: Where we stand on breast…

As an oncologist and a survivor herself, Dr. Marisa Weiss knows the urgency felt by those diagnosed with breast cancer. Genetic testing has accelerated the…

Wellbeing

Bees' stingers hold new hope for cancer cure

A promising new lead in the search for a cancer cure has turned up in a place that most people naturally avoid. A team from…

Home

Emily Henderson on small space design

Design expert Emily Henderson shows us how to upgrade our cramped quarters.