The Supreme Court of the United States announced on Friday that it would take on two cases that address marriage rights of LGBT people in the United States. The court will address both California’s same sex marriage ban, Proposition 8, and the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Hollingsworth v. Perry, a case originally challenged as Perry v. Schwarzenegger, was originally filed in May 2009 following the passage of California’s ballot initiative that defined marriage as between one man and one woman. Two same sex couples were denied a marriage license under the new law and sued. Judge Vaughn R. Walker found the measure unconstitutional in August 2010, finding it violated equal protection and due process. His ruling was immediately challenged because proponents of Prop 8 discovered Vaughn had been living with another man, his presumed partner, for 10 years. In February 2012, the Ninth Circuit court upheld Vaughn’s ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.
Windsor v. United States is the case that challenges the Defense of Marriage Act that was passed in 1992. The challengers in this case stem from the relationship of Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer, a lesbian couple who married in Canada in 2007 after first getting engaged in 1967. Spyer passed away in 2009, leaving an inheritance to Windsor, but because of DOMA, the law recognized this inheritance as if they were strangers despite the fact they had been together for decades and were legally married in another country.
A district court ruled DOMA unconstitutional on June 6, 2012. The case was appealed in the Second Circuit, and judges upheld the ruling in October.
“When Thea and I met nearly 50 years ago, we never could have dreamed that the story of our life together would be before the Supreme Court as an example of why gay married couples should be treated equally, and not like second-class citizens,” Windsor said in an American Civil Liberties Union press release. “While Thea is no longer alive, I know how proud she would have been to see this day. The truth is, I never expected any less from my country.”
Though this marks the first time the court will take up the rights of LGBT people to marry, it’s possible the rulings won’t address broad questions of individual rights. Longtime Supreme Court reporter Lyle Denniston wrote on SCOTUS blog on Friday, “The Court, one might say in summary, has agreed to take up virtually all of the key issues about same-sex marriage, but has given itself a way to avoid final decisions on the merits issues.”
The Supreme Court will hear the marriage equality cases in March.
Watch the video the ACLU made about Windsor and Spyer, uploaded to YouTube in November 2010.
Photo of Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer via YouTube.