The Supreme Court will release its decisions today in two highly-anticipated cases involving same-sex marriage.
Both are challenges to federal and state laws prohibiting government from recognizing same-sex unions: the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), and California’s Proposition 8, which banned same-sex marriage in the state of California.
Specifics of the laws
Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as solely between a man and a woman, making same-sex couples ineligible for more than 1,000 federal benefits including filing joint taxes, relief from the federal estate tax upon a partner’s death and the ability to sponsor a spouse for an immigration visa.
An 83-year-old New York City woman brought the suit against DOMA, known as United States v. Windsor, over inheritance taxes assessed upon the death of her wife. In 2007, she married her longtime partner, Thea Spyer, in Canada, where same-sex marriage is legal.
The Defense of Marriage Act was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, who said in March that he believes the law should be overturned. In an unusual move, the Obama administration Justice Department refused to defend the law before the court.
The court is also set to rule in Hollingsworth v. Perry, a challenge to California’s Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage which was passed by voters in 2008.
The court, which heard arguments in both cases in March, could rule in a number of different ways, including dismissal of the cases for parties’ lack of standing to argue before the court.
In May, the State of Delaware became the 11th of 12 states to recognize same-sex marriage. The law takes effect on July 1. New Jersey has civil unions, but Pennsylvania has no provisions for gay couples.
In advance of the rulings, state Rep. Brian Sims, the first openly gay person to win election to the Pennsylvania legislature, issued a statement.
“Regardless of how the U.S. Supreme Court rules in the two marriage cases,” he stated, “there will be much work left to do in Pennsylvania for our laws to catch up to the broad and growing support for equality in civil marriage and non-discrimination in the workplace.”
Speaking last week, Brandon McGinley of the Pennsylvania Family Institute said he hopes the court will uphold the ability of states to determine their own definition of marriage.
“In the annals of the Supreme Court opinions, the highest court in the United States would say that the position that the marriage of one man and one woman naturally, that that is the definition of marriage […] is a constitutionally protected opinion and that it is not the kind of invidious discrimination that we are so often told it is,” McGinley said.
WHYY and NPR will have continuing coverage following the rulings.