On Today's Docket: DOMA

Supreme Court hears second gay rights case

By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff

Posted Mar 27, 2013 7:16 AM CDT | Updated Mar 27, 2013 7:50 AM CDT

(Newser) – The Supreme Court heard arguments on California's Prop 8 yesterday; today, the federal Defense of Marriage Act is on the docket. What to expect:

  • What is today's case about? DOMA defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, meaning that gay couples who legally wed in states that allow gay marriage are denied federal benefits. The high court must decide if the federal government can constitutionally do that. The specific case being considered involves Edith Windsor, 83, who married partner Thea Spyer in 2007. When Spyer died, Windsor was hit with a $363,000 estate tax bill because their marriage wasn't recognized. She's suing for a refund.
  • Will Windsor be there? She is expected to be, but her health is declining, USA Today reports.
  • How many people are affected? There are about 133,000 married gay couples not currently recognized by the feds, Reuters reports. The Washington Post points out that while yesterday's case involved people not yet married, today's involves people who are.

  • What are the tax implications? If the Supreme Court strikes down DOMA, taxes for some same-sex couples might actually go up, Politico reports. The so-called "marriage penalty" means that when couples whose incomes are similar file a joint tax return, they don't get as many tax breaks as they would have had they filed separately. That "penalty" could end up applying to gay couples who currently skirt it.
  • How will yesterday's session affect today's? It may not. Yesterday's case could potentially involve a much broader ruling; the court could theoretically strike down Prop 8 and also extend gay marriage rights to all states. But the justices seemed wary of doing that. So, Reuters notes, that case may have little bearing on today's, since DOMA is a much narrower question. And, as NPR reports, it's also "a much clearer question," and the themes that come up today aren't likely to be similar to yesterday's. The only two expected outcomes: Is DOMA constitutional or not?
  • When is a decision expected? Late June. A ruling on the Prop 8 case is expected at the same time.
  • Is there a possibility there won't be a decision? Yes. The Obama administration refuses to defend DOMA in court, so House Republican leaders are defending it. The court could decide that those members have not suffered an injury that would allow them to bring the case, and could thus decide not to rule on it.

Demonstrators chant outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 26, 2013.
Demonstrators chant outside the Supreme Court in Washington, Tuesday, March 26, 2013.   (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
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