Earlier this morning, in the case of U.S. v. Windsor, the Supreme Court of the United States found Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. In a 5-4 decision authored by Justice Kennedy, the Court ruled that Section 3 of DOMA deprived same-sex couples of the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution. Note that the Windsor decision only applies to Section 3 of DOMA (which previously prohibited same-sex couples from enjoying any benefit under federal law). The decision does not apply to another key provision of DOMA that allows one state to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state.
In the separate Hollingsworth v. Perry case challenging California's Proposition 8 (which prohibited same-sex marriages), the Court ruled that it lacked jurisdiction to rule on the constitutionality of Proposition 8. This ruling has the effect of reinstating the original opinion of the United States District Court for the Northern District of California which found Proposition 8 unconstitutional under California law and prohibited the enforcement of Proposition 8 statewide. As a result, same-sex marriages will resume in California relatively shortly (perhaps in as soon as a month). As widely expected, the Court did not declare a constitutional right to marry in all states.
For more information on these cases and the immediate impact on employee benefit programs, please join our webinar on “DOMA and Proposition 8: Immediate Implications for Employee Benefit Plan Sponsors” scheduled for July 2, 2013.