The U.S. Supreme Court will hear two landmark lawsuits challenging infamous laws prohibiting same-sex couples from marrying—the first time the nation’s highest court will address the question of whether same-sex couples have the fundamental right to marriage.
The Justices will consider Hollingsworth v. Perry, the federal lawsuit questioning the validity of California’s Proposition 8, and Windsor v .United States, which challenges the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Enacted in November 2008, Proposition 8 eliminated the right of gay and lesbian Californians to marry. With today’s order to consider Perry, the Supreme Court will consider whether Proposition 8 violates the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and denies gay and lesbian couples a fundamental civil right.
Perry was filed on May 22, 2009, in Federal District Court on behalf of two California couples, Kris Perry and Sandy Stier, and Paul Katami and Jeff Zarrillo.
On February 7, 2012, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit issued a landmark ruling upholding the historic August 2010 decision of the Federal District Court that found Proposition 8 unconstitutional. The Supreme Court will consider an appeal to that ruling.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to grant review in this case illustrates the national significance of marriage equality, and brings us closer to the day when every American will be able to equally enjoy the fundamental freedom to marry,” said co-counsel Theodore B. Olson.
Chad Griffin, president of the Human Rights Campaign and co-founder of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), called the development “a milestone moment for equality.” AFER is the sole sponsor of Perry.
The other case under review, Windsor v. U.S., was filed on behalf of Edie Windsor, 83. The New York City widow was forced to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes after the death of her spouse Thea Spyer, because DOMA prevented their marriage from being recognized under federal law. If Spyer had married a man instead of a woman, no estate tax would have been owed.
The case is represented by Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; the American Civil Liberties Union; the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic. In October, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit held that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional as applied to Windsor. The court held that laws like DOMA that subject lesbians and gay men to unequal treatment are presumed to be unconstitutional and are legal only if the government can point to an “important interest” that justifies the discrimination. A federal district court had previously held in Windsor’s case that DOMA was unconstitutional even under a less rigorous constitutional standard.
“When Thea and I met nearly 50 years ago, we never could have dreamed that the story of our life together would be before the Supreme Court as an example of why gay married couples should be treated equally, and not like second-class citizens,” said Windsor, who sued the government for a refund after Spyer’s death in 2009. “While Thea is no longer alive, I know how proud she would have been to see this day.”
Legal experts expect the Court to begin reviewing the cases in late March 2013, with a decision expected in late June (just in time for Pride celebrations).