On Wednesday (June 26), the Supreme Court of the United States ruled in a 5-4 decision that Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional.
As soon as the ruling was reported, marriage-equality supporters celebrated the landmark and historical court decision that will allow all married couples to receive federal benefits. Previously under DOMA only heterosexual married couples were entitled to breaks such as filing joint taxes, family medical leave, and spousal benefits such as health insurance, pensions, social security benefits, and veteran’s benefits.
“I’m overwhelmed with emotion,” said Michelle Rivera-Landers of Schenectady. “Today is such an amazing historical day. Finally we are recognized on the federal level as a married couple and get to enjoy the same rights and responsibilities as all married couples. DOMA being defeated is going to open the floodgates toward marriage equality at the state level throughout the country. It’s just a matter of time now.”
Rivera-Landers, her wife Jenni, and their daughter Dakota, gathered in Albany this past March to show support for national marriage-equality rights. On March 27, the Supreme Court began hearings on United States v. Windsor, a lawsuit brought by Edie Windsor, an 83-year-old lesbian who was hit with $363,053 in estate taxes after her spouse died. Their marriage was recognized in New York state, but not under DOMA.
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote on behalf of the majority: “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”
The ruling also sent Proposition 8, which states that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California,” back to a lower court. Not challenged in the ruling was a provision of DOMA that says that no state is required to recognize a marriage performed in another state. Currently only 12 states and the District of Colombia recognize same-sex marriage.
Still, the ruling is being viewed by many as good news. “We are so excited to celebrate this victory for same sex couples in New York state,” said Curran Streett, executive director of the Pride Center of the Capital Region. “The message this sends cannot be understated: Discrimination can no longer be defended.”
“I feel overwhelmed with joy that Michelle and I now share the same rights as other married couples,” said Jenni Rivera-Landers. “We are no longer second-class citizens. And I believe, in the very near future, we will see a time when marriage is simply marriage and not defined as gay or straight. It’s amazing how it feels to be seen as equal, because we are all the same.”
By Molly Eadie and Erin Pihlaja