Skip to Content

DOMA is dead.

The Supreme Court has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage as between a man and a woman for the purposes of federal benefits.

Same-sex marriage can be legalized by states; 12 have done so.

Elizabeth Warren for President
(Getty Images)

But DOMA, signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, prevented same-sex couples whose marriages are recognized by their home state from receiving federal benefits.

As a result, gay couples felt they were being denied many benefits available to other married couples under federal law, despite being legally married.

By a 5-4 vote, the SCOTUS sided with the plaintiffs.


Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion:

“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 laws, 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.”

Justice Kennedy delivered the court’s opinion, and was joined by Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan.

Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia and Samuel Alito all filed separate dissenting opinions; Clarence Thomas dissented as well.

The road to DOMA‘s demise began two years ago.

The U.S. Department of Justice said in 2011 that the law was unconstitutional and declined to defend it any longer, opening the door for a landmark case.

Plaintiff Edie Windsor, 84, sued the U.S. after the IRS denied a refund request for the $363,000 in federal estate taxes she paid after her spouse, Thea Spyer, died in 2009.

During the March oral arguments in United States v. Windsor, a majority of the court seemed to express doubts about the constitutionality of DOMA.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said DOMA supporters seemed to want “two types of marriage,” likening same-sex unions to the “skim milk” version of marriage.