The Supreme Court Ruling: DOMA

By: Jason Howe




Ding dong the witch is dead!

What does it feel like to be like everyone else?

Well, the crew from Telemundo just left.  My mother is happily tearing up in the living room as her beloved CNN devotes wall-to-wall coverage to the Supreme Court’s death blow – or rather, its refusal to grant a stay of execution – to Proposition 8.  Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council is already telling the network that “this isn’t over.” 

But it is.

My home state has ended an embarrassing chapter in its history and regained its place as the second state to recognize the equality of all its families, not to mention its reputation as a generally good place if you value civil rights.  The Defense of Marriage Act is dead.  “Love is love,” the president just tweeted.  The Supreme Court has ruled 5-4 that:

DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state­ sanctioned marriages and make them unequal. The prin­cipal purpose is to impose inequality, not for other reasons like governmental efficiency. Responsibilities, as well as rights, enhance the dignity and integrity of the person. And DOMA contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not other couples, of both rights and responsibilities.

You’d be hard-pressed to find a better illustration of DOMA’s malice than Edie Windsor, the plaintiff in United States vs. Windsor.  After four decades with her spouse Thea Spyer, after caring for Spyer as she progressively lost her battle with multiple sclerosis, Windsor was presented with a six-figure inheritance tax bill as a condolence from the federal government on Speyer’s death.  The Court found that Section 3 of DOMA, saying that the federal government would recognize a marriage contracted between a man and a woman, “violates basic due process and equal protection principles applicable to the Federal Government.”

The 5-4 vote was no surprise, with Justice Anthony Kennedy siding, as expected, with the Court’s liberal wing.  Not only was Kennedy’s opinion in Lawrence v. Texas, overturning remaining state sodomy laws, key to the case against Prop 8, but the Court appears to have carefully chosen today to announce its rulings.  It’s ten years to the day the Court ruled on Lawrence and forever changed the landscape of LGBT rights in the United States.  Jon Davidson of Lambda Legal helped present that case to the Court:

Exactly 10 years ago today, the Supreme Court issued a historic ruling striking down state laws that branded gay people as criminals. Today, it once again struck down a law passed by legislators who sat in moral judgment against LGBT people, this time condemning them in the eyes of the entire nation. DOMA was unconstitutional when Congress wrote it and, with today’s ruling, its bruising hand has been lifted.


It seems so obvious, and while it seems like it took too long, this day came remarkably quickly – just sixty years plus change since the formation of the Mattachine Society – and its subsequent investigation by the FBI.  Many lesbians and gay men still alive today remember what it was like to hide or face alienation or arrest.  The rapid progress we’ve made – mostly just within my lifetime – is something to remember as you celebrate.

What does it feel like to be like everyone else?  As I write this, I can hear my daughter Clara squealing from her high chair in the kitchen as Papá tells her not to plaster herself with yogurt.  I hear the painters scraping the trim outside my window as our remodel enters its final phase.  Mockingbirds, the whoosh of traffic on the Ventura Freeway – and the television still blaring from the living room that everything has changed.

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