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Supreme Court Grants Same-Sex Marriage Petitions

By Robyn Hagan Cain | Last updated on

The Supreme Court on Friday agreed to review challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California's Proposition 8. The granted cases are U.S. v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry, respectively.

If your friends are like ours, these grants will be the only thing you'll talk about this weekend. Here's a primer to get you prepped for the onslaught of questions about these same-sex marriage cases.

Windsor v. U.S.

In October, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals applied heightened scrutiny to conclude that DOMA's classification of same-sex spouses was not substantially related to an important government interest. The court held that DOMA Section 3, which limits the federal definition of marriage to one man and one woman, violates equal protection.

The plaintiff in the case, 83-year-old Edie Windsor, spent 44 years with her partner Thea Spyer. The couple became engaged in 1967, and were married in Canada in 2007. Two years later, Thea passed away.

Under federal tax law, a spouse who dies can leave assets, including the family home, to the other spouse without incurring estate taxes. DOMA Section 3, however, restricts the federal interpretation of marriage to heterosexual couples. Because the federal government did not recognize their marriage, the IRS taxed Windsor's inheritance from Spyer.

Windsor sued to recover $353,053 in federal estate tax that she was not allowed to claim because her marriage was not legally recognized under DOMA. Both the district court and the appellate court agreed that the federal government sided with Windsor.

The heightened scrutiny analysis was one of the most significant aspects of this decision, as the Second Circuit is the first federal appellate court to apply the standard to government discrimination against gay people, according to the ACLU. Judge Jacobs wrote that heightened scrutiny was appropriate because:

  1. Homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination.
  2. Homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society.
  3. Homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages.
  4. The class remains a politically weakened minority.

The Supreme Court will consider both the constitutionality of DOMA and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group's standing to defend the law.

Hollingsworth v. Perry

In February, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that California's Proposition 8, a state constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage, was unconstitutional in the context of the Supreme Court's Romer v. Evans decision. (Both cases involved state initiatives revoking previously recognized rights for gays and lesbians.)

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Stephen Reinhardt, writing for the 2-1 majority, noted that "Proposition 8 serves no purpose, and has no effect, other than to lessen the status and human dignity of gays and lesbians in California, and to officially reclassify their relationships and families as inferior to those of opposite-sex couples."

Alas, it's time once more to mark your calendars for the last day of the term. SCOTUSblog says to expect arguments in March 2013, and decisions on June 27.

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