In “One-Two Punch,” Justices Strike Down Federal Defense of Marriage Act and Let Stand a Lower Court’s Ruling Against California’s Prop 8.

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New York, June 26, 2013—Professors Suzanne B. Goldberg and Katherine M. Franke of Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law applauded the U.S. Supreme Court’s decisions today striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and leaving in place a lower court ruling that had invalidated California’s Proposition 8, which took the right to marry away from same-sex couples in that state.

The rulings are the high court’s first major gay rights decisions in a decade. The DOMA decision came in Edie Windsor v. United States, a case in which the U.S. refused to recognize Windsor’s marriage to Thea Speyer and, when Thea died, sent Edie a $300,000+ tax bill. If the couple’s marriage had been recognized, Windsor would not have faced any taxes on the estate because of the tax code’s marital exemption.

The Prop. 8 decision in Hollingsworth v. Perry found that the sponsors of the ballot initiative did not have standing to bring their case to the Supreme Court. As a result, the trial court ruling – which struck down Prop. 8 as a violation of same-sex couples’ equality rights under the U.S. Constitution – remains in place.

“The Windsor decision powerfully rejects DOMA’s humiliation and injury to same-sex couples,” said Goldberg, the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law and co-director of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, who co-authored amicus briefs in both cases. “The two decisions together are a one-two punch to the nation’s most prominent anti-gay laws.”

“These two decisions solidify the meaning of full citizenship for gay and lesbian people: we can no longer be singled out by local, state or federal governments for reasons based in bias,” said Franke, co-director of Columbia Law School’s Center for Gender and Sexuality Law and the Sulzbacher Professor of Law. “Today the Supreme Court affirmed the view held by most members of the American public, that there are no legitimate reasons to bar same sex couples from legally marrying, and that the reasons offered by the defenders of DOMA and Proposition 8 were based in bigotry and animus.”

Franke also signed onto the Windsor amicus brief.

In Windsor, the court recognized that the Constitution’s equality guarantee prevents the federal government from imposing unequal marriage rules. Until today’s ruling, DOMA persisted despite the fact that gay couples are allowed to marry in 12 states and the District of Columbia. This rejection of a law singling out gay people for legal burdens follows on a 2003 ruling striking down a criminal statute that punished same-sex couples’ sexual intimacy (Lawrence v. Texas)and a 1996 ruling rejecting a law that blocked antidiscrimination protections for gay people (Romer v. Evans).

The Hollingsworth decision also fits in with a long line of cases finding that only those who suffer a “concrete and particularized” harm can participate as parties in federal court litigation.

“Going forward, the federal government should immediately recognize the marriages of same-sex couples who, like heterosexual couples, have been married under state law,” said Goldberg, who was co-counsel for plaintiffs in the Lawrence and Romer cases. “For couples in states that do not recognize their marriages, the Obama administration can make clear, through regulation, that the federal government will recognize those marriages and not participate in state-sponsored discrimination.”

In the Windsor amicus brief, Goldberg and Georgetown Law Professor Nan Hunter advanced a framework for giving meaning to the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee. The Perry brief, co-written by Columbia Law School Professor Henry P. Monaghan, urged the Court to find that the Proposition 8 sponsors lacked standing. Sarah H. Cleveland, the Louis Henkin Professor of Human and Constitutional Rights and co-director of the Human Rights Institute, and Visiting Professor Harold Hongju Koh also filed a brief in favor of equality in the Prop. 8 case.

Through the work of the Center for Gender and Sexuality Law, Columbia Law School has become the preeminent law school in the country for research, teaching, and advocacy on gender and sexual justice.

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