A Summary of the Supreme Court’s Ruling in the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) Case

by: Sandra Brooks On June 26, 2013, the United States Supreme Court declared Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) to be unconstitutional “as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment.” United States v. Windsor, 570 U.S. ___ (June 26, 2013), (Docket No. 12-307). Retrieved June 26, 2013. In 2007, same-sex couple Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, who were residents in New York, were married in Canada.  Two years later, in 2009, Spyer died, and she left her entire estate to Windsor.  Windsor elected the estate tax exemption for surviving spouses.  However, the IRS denied her request under Section 3 of DOMA, which defined marriage as between a man and woman.  This left Windsor with an estate tax obligation in excess of $300,000.  Windsor filed suit. The issue before the Supreme Court was whether or not Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional under the due process clause of the 5th Amendment’s guarantee of equal protection for same-sex partners. The Supreme Court recently struck down Section 3 of DOMA in a 5-4 decision as unconstitutional. This opens the door for same-sex couples to have equal federal benefits, rights and protections.  For instance, under Windsor, same-sex couples can now file joint tax returns, sponsor a same-sex partner for United State’s residency, same-sex widows and widowers can receive Social Security survivor benefits, service men and women can receive support and benefits for their same-sex spouses, federal employee same-sex spouses can receive health insurance and retirement benefits, and the list goes on. The federal government’s recognition of a marriage is dependent on the State’s laws.  Maryland recognizes same-sex marriages, so same-sex couples in Maryland will reap the federal benefits, rights and protections in accordance with the Windsor case.  However, in states where same-sex marriages are not recognized, those state laws will like create obstacles for same-sex spouses in obtaining equal federal benefits and protections.

Sandra Brooks is an attorney in the firm’s Washington office. She dedicates her time to assisting clients in domestic law matters including divorce, child custody and visitation, family mediation, spousal and child support, property division, and division of retirement benefits.  She can be reached at 240.507.1716 or