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SCOTUS Strikes Down DOMA & Passes on Prop 8

Rachel L. West, MSW, LMSW
Director of Community Development

Today the United States Supreme Court handed down decisions on two same-sex marriage  cases.

In United States v. Windsor they ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.  DOMA, which went into law in 1996, defines marriage on the federal level as being between one man and one woman.  DOMA prohibited the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages despite couples having a valid marriage certificate.

Edith Windsor who was the plaintiff in United States v. Windsor brought the suit because she was sent an estate tax bill of more than $300,000 following the death of her long-term partner. Windsor and her partner had legally married in Canada shortly before her partner’s death. Had Windsor been married to a man she would not have had to pay an inheritance tax.

By striking down DOMA, same-sex couples who are legally married will now have that marriage recognized by the Federal government.  They will be able to do things most married couples take for granted like filing a joint federal tax return. It also means that married same-sex couples can now benefit from immigration laws that prevents a spouse who is not a US citizen from being deported.

You can read the court’s decision on United States v. Windsor here.

In the second marriage equality case, Hollingsworth v. Perry (aka the Prop 8 case), SCOTUS ruled that they did not have jurisdiction over the case. What this means is that the lower court’s ruling that struck down Proposition 8 will stand.  Same-sex couples in the state of California will once again be able to marry.

Back in 2008 California briefly issued marriage licenses to same-sex couples following a ruling by the Supreme Court of California. That ruling found that under the equal protection clause same-sex couples could not be denied the right to marry. A short five months later same-sex marriage was made illegal after Proposition 8 was passed by voters.

In California voters can amend the state constitution through ballot initiative.  Opponents of same-sex marriage out organized LGBT equality activist and the initiative passed with 52.1% of the vote (Wall Street Journal). It should be noted the lessons learned from this defeat has helped marriage equality advocates to win in other states. You can learn more about what went wrong in the battle to defeat Prop 8 here.

You can read the ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry here.

This was undoubtedly a historic and joyous day for the LGBT community. It is important to remember that as huge as this outcome is that we still have much work left to do.

Neither of these decisions orders every state to legalize same-sex marriage. So we still have to organize in those states to get marriage equality laws passed.  Then there is the issue of job discrimination.  In 29 states an employer can discriminate against an employee based on that employee’s sexual orientation. There are 33 states that do not have laws making it illegal to discriminate against someone because of their gender identity (Human Rights Campaign).

photo credit AP Photo/Charles Dharapak

Written by Rachel L. West

Rachel L. West is the Founder of the Political Social Worker, a blog dedicated to macro social work and politics. She holds a BA in History from SUNY Stony Brook and an MSW from Adelphi University.

She is a community outreach and engagement specialist. Rachel resides in New York State, and she is available as a consultant and coach. You can find out more about Rachel at The Political Social Worker at (

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