Dec 17, 2012

U.S. Supreme Court Will Address Gay Marriage

As a follow up to my last blog post, on Friday December 7, 2012, the United States Supreme Court announced that it would hear, not one, but two gay marriage cases.  The first is Windsor v. United States 699 F.3d 169 (2012), which comes out of an October 2012 ruling from the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, and was the subject of my prior post.  The second case, Perry v. Hollingsworth 704 F.Supp 2d 921 (N. D. Cal 2010) comes out of the 9th Circuit in California.

In the Windsor case, Edith Windsor challenged the Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA), alleging that it violated the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution, when she was required to pay more than $363,000 in estate taxes on property she received from her same sex spouse.  (The couple was legally married in Toronto in 2007, but resided in New York).  While opposite sex spouses are allowed to transfer assets to their spouse upon death without paying estate taxes, under DOMA, same sex spouses do not receive the same estate tax exemption – thus the finding that DOMA prevented Ms. Windsor from receiving equal protection under the law, in violation of the U.S. Constitution.

Seeing as this was one of two opinions by U.S. Courts of Appeal (1st and 2nd Circuits) that found DOMA unconstitutional, it was considered one of two possible cases (out of ten possible rulings) most likely to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court, as the Supreme Court is required to settle disputes among the Circuits, particularly when a federal law is found to be unconstitutional.

In a somewhat more surprising move, the Court also agreed to hear the case of Perry v. Hallingsworth, 704 F.Supp 2d 921, (N.D. Cal. 2010), which challenged the constitutionality of California Proposition 8, a ballot initiative that successfully required amendment to the state’s Constitution limiting the recognition of marriage as between a man and a woman only.  While certain states have recently voted to allow gay marriage (including Maine and Maryland), 31 other states have amended their constitutions to prohibit same sex marriage.  Depending on how broad or narrow a ruling the Court makes in the Proposition 8 case, the decision could have an impact well beyond the State of California.

Oral arguments on the cases are expected to be heard in March 2013, with rulings being handed down in June 2013.

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