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    The Supreme Court and the Power of Windsor

    marriageequalityWith the Supreme Court’s announcing it will review marriage discrimination laws in Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee, we look to the Court to apply United States v. Windsor, its powerful 2013 decision striking down Section 3 of DOMA, to establish marriage equality nationwide.

    Windsor articulates incisively how DOMA’s denying federal rights and recognition to married same-sex couples was an affront to the dignity of same-sex couples and their families. The Court recognized that the decision of the state of New York (Edie Windsor’s home state) to legalize marriage for same-sex couples enabled LGBT couples to “live with pride in themselves and their union and in a status of equality with all other married persons.” The Court explained that “[t]he avowed purpose and practical effect of” DOMA was “to impose a disadvantage, a separate status, and so a stigma upon all who enter into same-sex marriages…” It stated that DOMA treated marriages of same-sex couples as “second-class marriages” that are “less respected” than everyone else’s marriages. DOMA’s purpose was to “injure” and “disparage” married same-sex couples and to make them “unequal” to everyone else.

    The Court set forth extensively the harm this second-class status caused same-sex couples and their families. The Court explained how DOMA put same-sex couples in an “unstable position” in society by telling the “couples, and all the world, that their otherwise valid marriages [were] unworthy of federal recognition.” Further, “DOMA instruct[ed] all federal officials, and indeed all persons with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage [was] less worthy than the marriages of others…Under DOMA, same-sex married couples [had] their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways. By its great reach, DOMA [touched] many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound.”

    In particular, the Court noted how section 3 of DOMA hurt same-sex couples’ children: DOMA “humiliates tens of thousands of children now being raised by same-sex couples. [DOMA]…makes it even more difficult for the children to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.”

    Justice Scalia’s Windsor dissent decries the Court’s decision but, in the process, states that the opinion’s language makes the Court’s striking down state bans on marriage for same-sex couples “inevitable.” He even demonstrates how “easy” the process would be by using track changes to show how the Court can adapt Windsor’s language to rule in favor of marriage equality nationwide.

    We couldn’t agree more that Windsor’s language should compel the Court to strike down all remaining state marriage bans. We hope the result is indeed “inevitable” this Supreme Court term. Same-sex couples in states without marriage equality still suffer overt discrimination. All LGBT couples live with uncertainty and vulnerability when they travel to states without equality. We look to the Court to recognize that we are not just Californians, Minnesotans, Texans, New Yorkers, or residents of any of our home states. We are Americans, and we deserve full equality wherever we live or travel to in our home country.

    John Lewis and Stuart Gaffney, together for three decades, were plaintiffs in the California case for equal marriage rights decided by the California Supreme Court in 2008. They are leaders in the nationwide grassroots organization Marriage Equality USA.