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Supreme Court rules DOMA unconstitutional in 5-4 decision

When Minnesota same-sex couples start getting married on August 1, they'll have the same status on the federal level as all other couples.

As reported by SCOTUSblog, the Supreme Court ruled 5 - 4 today that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which federally defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman, is unconstitutional under the Fifth Amendment, in the case of United States v. Windsor.

Justice Kennedy wrote the majority opinion in the case; Justices Roberts, Scalia and Alito wrote dissenting opinions.

See also: The 12 best things about gay marriage in Minnesota Mark Dayton signs gay marriage bill into law When will gay marriage be legal in Minnesota?

The case was brought by Edie Windsor, who lives in New York. In 2007, she married her partner of 40 years, Thea Spyer, in Toronto, Canada. Speyer died two years later from complications of multiple sclerosis. Though the state of New York recognized their marriage as valid at the time, the federal government, under DOMA, did not. Windsor was legally obligated to pay federal estate taxes on her wife's inheritance that she would not have had to pay if she was married to a man, since inheritance from spouses is not taxed on the federal level.

The suit argued that section three of DOMA, which defines marriage as between one man and one woman for all federal purposes -- which include Social Security survivors' benefits, immigration regulations, filing joint federal tax returns, and benefits to federal employees -- is unconstitutional.

Here's section three of DOMA:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

The court ruled today that this is unconstitutional "as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment." Though this does not change laws on marriage in any state, it does allow married same sex couples the same standing on a federal level as opposite sex ones.

Here's the opinion.

This is a big day for marriage equality. In addition to DOMA, Proposition 8, the infamous referendum that banned same-sex marriage in California, will remain unconstitutional, as decided by a district court in California. The court ruled 5-4 that the petitioners lacked the grounds to appeal the earlier decision.


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