Supreme Court Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act

Supreme Court Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act
June 26, 2013

In a landmark 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court today struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  In U.S. v. Windsor the Court found that section 3 of DOMA, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional.

The Court found that the DOMA violated gays and lesbians’ Constitutional Equal Protection rights, holding that, “DOMA instructs all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriages of others. The federal statute is invalid, for no legitimate purpose overcomes the purpose and effect to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage law, sought to protect in personhood and dignity. By seeking to displace this protection and treating those persons as living in marriages less respected than others, the federal statute is in violation of the Fifth Amendment.”

There are more than a dozen cases in the federal courts that have challenged various aspects of DOMA, including the Legal Aid Society-Employment Law Center’s case Dragovich v. Treasury.  The Dragovich case was brought on behalf of a class of state employees who were deprived of long term care insurance for their same-sex spouses and domestic partners because of the discriminatory DOMA and related federal laws.  The Dragovich plaintiffs won their case but the Defendants appealed and the case has been “stayed” in the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals awaiting the Supreme Court’s DOMA decision.

Upon hearing today’s news, lead plaintiff Mike Dragovich said, “I look forward to finally being able to include my husband in the long term care plan the state offers to its employees' families.  I have been waiting a long time to have my family treated equally".

“It is a historic day for equality”, said Elizabeth Kristen, Director of the Gender Equity & LGBT Rights Program and one of the lawyers for the Dragovich plaintiffs.  “We are confident that, now that DOMA has fallen, the Ninth Circuit will affirm our victory and force the State of California to stop discriminating against its gay and lesbian employees in the provision of Long Term Care Insurance.”

Along with Claudia Center, Elizabeth Kristen and William C. McNeill, III, from Legal Aid Society–Employment Law Center, counsel for the plaintiffs include Dan Mason and Patrick Clayton of Zelle Hofmann Voelbel & Mason LLP.