Today the Supreme Court announced decisions in the two gay marriage cases, United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry.
Let’s review the outcome of each decision and how each decision affects LGBT couples that live in states without gay marriage, like Florida.
U.S. v. Windsor: The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) Case
Outcome: The law is unconstitutional. Here’s the opinion released today. The court said that the law “is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others.”
To review, DOMA was a 1996 law passed back when President Clinton was in office. DOMA defined “marriage,” for purposes of over a thousand federal laws and programs, as a union between a man and a woman only. Today the Court ruled, by a vote of five to four, in an opinion by Justice Kennedy, that the law is unconstitutional. The Court explained that the states have long had the responsibility of regulating and defining marriage, and some states have opted to allow same-sex couples to marry to give them the protection and dignity associated with marriage. By denying recognition to same-sex couples who are legally married, federal law discriminates against them to express disapproval of state-sanctioned same-sex marriage. This decision means that same-sex couples who are legally married must now be treated the same under federal law as married opposite-sex couples.
The law had two parts:
(1) states are not required to recognize same-sex marriages from other jurisdictions.
(2) the U.S. government is prohibited from recognizing same-sex marriages
Note, only the second part was ruled unconstitutional. The first part–which says that states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages from other states–still applies.
How DOMA Decision Affects People Living in States Without Gay Marriage
Things are about to get complicated. The result of the Supreme Court decision means that the federal government is now required to recognize legal state marriages. The big question: what happens if you live in a state without gay marriage, like Florida, but then go to a different state, like New York, to get married? Do you still get federal benefits? Do you still file your taxes jointly? Which of the more than 1,100 federal marriage benefits apply to you?
The answers will depend on whether particular laws and regulations that create each federal benefit specify that the celebration state or the state of residence determine which marriage laws apply. Different laws will say different things. And some laws, like whether you’re allowed to file taxes jointly, don’t say at all. Here are the possibilities:
- Celebration state: If your marriage was legal in the state where it happened, the federal government will recognize it for that particular benefit.
- Domicile state: If the state where you live does not recognize the marriage, then neither will the federal government.
- Doesn’t Specify: Nobody knows for sure. It’s possible the federal government will recognize the out of state marriage for federal purposes, but it might not. Future regulations and court decisions may clarify this.
In the coming days I will be working on categorizing the more important federal benefits to show which ones will be recognized and which will not be recognized for out of state same-sex marriages.
As a practical matter, there are at least some federal rights that you can obtain by getting married in a state allowing gay marriage even if the state you live in does not allow gay marriage.
Hollingsworth v. Perry: The California Case
Outcome: Gay marriage legal in California. The case was dismissed due to lack of standing.
To review, Proposition 8 was an amendment to the California constitution passed by voters in November 2008. The amendment outlawed same-sex marriages in the state in response to the highest state court legalizing them earlier. After the two same-sex couples filed their challenge to Proposition 8 in federal court in California, the California government officials who would normally have defended the law in court, declined to do so. So the proponents of Proposition 8 stepped in to defend the law, and the California Supreme Court (in response to a request by the lower court) ruled that they could do so under state law. But today the Supreme Court held that the proponents do not have the legal right to defend the law in court. As a result, it held, the decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, the intermediate appellate court, has no legal force, and it sent the case back to that court with instructions for it to dismiss the case.
The Supreme Court only found no standing by the Proposition 8 opponents to appeal. It did not question the standing of the Proposition 8 challengers to challenge the law. So the district court had jurisdiction; the court of appeals did not.
How California Decision Affects People Living in States Without Gay Marriage
The Supreme Court could have gone big and ruled that gay marriage should be legal everywhere, but it did not. As a result, the Court’s decision will likely mean that gay marriage will once again be legal in California. However, the legality of marriage in other states is unaffected.
As a result, if you’re a same-sex couple living in a state without gay marriage–like Florida–your marriage rights are unaffected by the Perry decision. At most, it means you will have one more state to travel to to get married.
About Gideon Alper
Schedule a consultation with Gideon using the contact page or by calling his office at (407) 476-6047.