Civil and Human Rights

United States v. Windsor

At issue in United States v. Windsor was the constitutionality of Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which defined marriage for purposes of federal law solely as between a man and a woman and thus excluded legally married same-sex couples from more than a thousand federal legal protections, rights and benefits provided to married, opposite-sex couples.

Case Summary

On February 1, 2013, Constitutional Accountability Center and the Cato Institute jointly filed an amici curiae brief in support of the Respondent in Windsor, arguing that DOMA’s Section 3 violated the basic constitutional requirement of equality under the law, denying to legally married same-sex couples the full range of federal rights and benefits that exist to help support committed, loving couples form enduring, life-long bonds. CAC and Cato’s brief demonstrated that laws that discriminate and treat any group of persons as inferior are “by their very nature odious to a free people whose institutions are founded upon the doctrine of equality.” Our brief also directly addressed flaws in the defense of Section 3 offered by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives (“BLAG”); the purported governmental interests BLAG suggested, such as appeals to “tradition,” failed under any standard of review, even rational basis scrutiny.

On June 26, 2013, in a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court, as we had urged, held that Section 3 of DOMA violated the basic constitutional requirement of equality under the law, and that the federal government cannot discriminate against married same-sex couples for the purpose of determining federal benefits. In the majority opinion authored by Justice Anthony Kennedy, the Court criticized DOMA’s vast system of marriage discrimination as an assault on the Constitution’s universal guarantee of equality, explaining that DOMA’s “principal purpose” was to “impose inequality,” and that it demeaned the couple “whose moral and sexual choices the Constitution protects, and whose relationship the State has sought to dignify.” Although Windsor did not decide whether states may forbid same-sex marriage, the sweeping ruling is an important victory that establishes a strong constitutional foundation for marriage equality.

Read CAC’s reaction to the landmark decision in Windsor here, here, here and here.

Case Timeline

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