US Supreme Court To Hear Challenge To Defense of Marriage Act

A day after hearing arguments on California’s Proposition 8 case, U.S. Supreme Court justices are tackling a second case concerning same-sex marriage this morning.

The court is scheduled to hear nearly two hours of arguments on an 83-year-old New York widow’s challenge to a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA.

The 1996 law defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman for purposes of federal laws and programs.

The restriction has the result of denying an array of federal benefits and tax advantages to same-sex couples who were legally married in their states.

Nine states and Washington, D.C., now allow same-sex marriage.

In the case before the court, widow Edith Windsor is seeking a refund of $363,000 in federal estate taxes she had to pay at the death of her wife, Thea Spyer, in 2009.

The two women were partners for 40 years and married in 2007.

Windsor, who would not have had to pay the tax if her spouse had been a man, contends the federal law violates her constitutional right to equal treatment.

After U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder announced in 2011 that the U.S. Justice Department now considers DOMA unconstitutional and will no longer support it in court, the Republican leadership of the U.S. House of Representative stepped in to defend the law.

While the Proposition 8 case argued Tuesday concerns whether a state can ban gay marriage, today’s DOMA case has to do with whether the federal government can refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where such unions are legal.

The court’s rulings in both cases are expected by the end of June.

Julia Cheever, Bay City News

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