Family Law Attorneys

The Downfall of DOMA: The Supreme Court Makes a Decision on Same-Sex Marriage

In a nail-biting decision that affected hundreds of Americans around the country, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling which overturned the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The decision, which many see as a victory of marriage equality advocates, was one of the most talked about and disputed Supreme Court rulings of the 21st century.

The case originated in California after the results of the 2008 election implemented Proposition 8, a grass-roots initiative that sought to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman. Despite Prop 8's victory among the popular vote, marriage rights activists challenged the constitutionality of the proposition before the California Supreme Court, where the three judges overturned the people's decision on Prop 8. The case was then appealed to the United States Supreme Court when the question of federal policy on marriage equality was added to the appeal. The appellants, a same-sex couple acting on behalf of same-sex couples around the country and their supporters, challenged both the constitutionality of the California initiative as well as the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996.

Since there was a scarcity of case law on this subject, analysts and experts all had different opinions as to how the court would act. Marriage equality activists were hopeful that the court would side with their views and make a blanket ruling requiring all states to recognize same-sex marriage while traditional marriage supporters were holding their breath for a ruling in favor of the popular vote in California and the conservation of traditional family principles. Those with more insight into the behavior of the Supreme Court as individuals and a collective panel were not surprised at the final decision issued by the court.

The United States Supreme Court declared the Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional, invalidating the federal law and removing any enforcement of it. When it came to the decision on the Prop 8 and California, the Supreme Court did not make a ruling. The reason for the absence of a decision on the question was because the court believed it to be intrusive for a federal body to intervene in a domestic issue that had been decided upon by a state Supreme Court. Marriage, the Supreme Court has decided, is a state issue and in order to preserve the rights and sovereignty of individual states, the federal government must limit its involvement.

Many are asking what this decision will mean for same-sex couples around the nation. The Supreme Court made no active decision on the actual question of same-sex marriage. Rather, by striking down DOMA, it leaves the decision up to state governments. This means that in states where same-sex couples have marriage rights, their marriages will be recognized. However, it leaves states without such provisions to themselves. Although the decision seemed fair to some, many same-sex couples are now threatening to move to a state that recognizes their union, such as Massachusetts or New York.

For more information on the DOMA decision and how it may affect your marriage or domestic partnership, contact our Worcester divorce attorney today.