Human Resources
Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Section of DOMA; Dismisses Prop 8 Case on Jurisdictional Grounds

Supreme Court Strikes Down Key Section of DOMA; Dismisses Prop 8 Case on Jurisdictional Grounds


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On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down two long-awaited decisions on same-sex marriage that will have long-term implications for employers that sponsor employee benefit plans.

By a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in United States v. Windsor that a key section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), defining marriage as the union of one man and one woman for purposes of federal law, is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal protection guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. The opinion and its holding are confined to lawful marriages.

In the Windsor decision, the Court addressed the impact of Section 3 on spousal entitlement to benefit programs sponsored by the federal government and private employers:

[The Defense of Marriage Act] prevents same-sex married couples from obtaining government healthcare benefits they would otherwise receive…It forces them to follow a complicated procedure to file their state and federal taxes jointly…It raises the cost of health care for families by taxing health benefits provided by employers to their workers’ same-sex spouses…And it denies or reduces Social Security benefits allowed to families upon the loss of a spouse and parent, benefits that are an integral part of family security. 

The Court stated that the Court's opinion and the holding striking down Section 3 of DOMA applied only to "lawful marriages." As a result, federal law will now defer to state law in determining whether a couple is legally married for purposes of federal laws defining terms such as "marriage" and "spouse."

Also by a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court ruled in Hollingsworth v. Perry that the petitioners in the Proposition 8 case did not have standing to contest the district court's decision overturning California's ban on same-sex marriage. The Court vacated the Ninth Circuit decision and remanded the case with instructions to dismiss the appeal for lack of jurisdiction.

The link to the full text of the United States v. Windsor (DOMA) Supreme Court opinion is available at: here.

The link to the full text of the Hollingsworth v. Perry (Prop 8) Supreme Court opinion is available at: here.