In a 5-4 ruling on Thursday, the Supreme Court found that Section 3 of DOMA, which provides an exclusively heterosexual federal definition of “marriage” and “spouse,” was unconstitutional because it deprived people of “equal liberty” before the law.
The case, United States v. Windsor, was brought before the Court by 84-year-old New Yorker Edith Windsor, who was charged $363,053 in estate taxes because the government did not recognise her marriage to her longtime partner Thea Spyer, who died in 2009 and left her estate to Windsor.
The decision grants Windsor a tax refund plus interest and brings a three-year legal battle to a close. Two previous courts, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, have both previously ruled in Windsor’s favour, and the appeals were taken up by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the US House of Representatives after the Department of Justice declined to defend DOMA’s constitutional legality.
Minutes after handing down the Windsor ruling the Court declined to overturn a previous decision that struck down California’s Proposition 8, effectively rendering gay marriage legal in the US’s most populous state.
The Supreme Court decision brings the lengthy legal battle over same-sex marriage in California to an end. Proposition 8 banned gay marriage in California after narrowly passing at the 2008 election, but the ban was found to be unconstitutional in two later court rulings. However, the Court declined to use the case to assert a sweeping right to gay marriage nationwide, meaning the ruling only has power in the state of California.
The rulings come in time for the 43rd annual San Francisco Pride Parade, which will march over the June 29-30 weekend. San Francisco Pride CEO Earl Plante said he was “absolutely elated” by the timing of the ruling.
“By rightly restoring the constitutional rights to civil marriage for same sex couples in California, this long awaited ruling sends a clear message to all Americans that equal protection under the law has once again triumphed over discrimination,” Plante said.