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Palm Springs Law Blog

Monday, July 1, 2013

The Supreme Court Ruling on the Defense of Marriage Act: What it Means

The Supreme Court’s historic ruling striking down Section 3 of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is an enormous victory for loving, married couples and their families, and affirms that they deserve equal treatment under the law. This victory demonstrates the importance of access to marriage, and gives married same-sex couples
access to the tangible benefits of the federal safety net, allowing them to better protect one another and their children.

Edie Windsor demonstrated tremendous courage in standing up and speaking out for her 44-year relationship and marriage when she was treated unjustly, and her actions have directly improved the lives of all same-sex couples.

Ending DOMA lifts up all LGBT people, even if it does not end our work. DOMA was an official federal policy disapproving of gay people and same-sex relationships, often imitated by states and private actors, and imposed a second-class status on our lawful marriages by negating them for all federal purposes. The Court has now affirmed that equal protection guarantees apply to the relationships of LGBT people and has replaced federal disrespect with federal respect for our lawful marriages. This victory will energize our work moving forward so that we can achieve a reality in which every single same-sex couple enjoys full and equal protections under the law, regardless of where they live.

This historic decision takes effect in 25 days. For legally married couples living outside of marriage state or the District of Columbia, there are still many questions about when they will be equally able to share in federal protections, responsibilities, and programs. This is because the federal government typically defers to the states in determining whether a couple’s marriage is valid. There is no one rule across all federal agencies. Some agencies look to the law of the state where a couple married regardless of the law of the state where the couple now lives, while others look to the law of the state where the couple is living now.

We think the federal government can and should take action, where necessary, to ensure that married couples in all states have access to the largest number of federal programs. The federal government is already looking at how federal agencies can ensure fair and equal treatment of all married couples where possible. However, at this time, there are a number of important federal benefits that depend on whether your marriage is recognized where you live, so couples who live in states with bans on marriage by same-sex couples should proceed with caution before making the decision to marry.

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