Now that it looks like the U.S. Supreme Court may not issue a ruling on California's gay marriage ban, the fight over an anti-gay federal law is more important than ever.
On Tuesday, the court heard arguments on California's Proposition 8, and today it will consider a challenge to the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.
Several of the Supreme Court's justices indicated Tuesday they wouldn't issue a ruling on California's Proposition 8 — which would effectively leave in place a court ruling that overturned the ban.
While no ruling at all would let gays marry in California, Prop 8 opponents were hoping for a "50-state solution" that would have found that gays in every state had a Constitutional right to marry. A broad ruling like that would effectively do away with the DOMA too.
No broad ruling on Prop 8 would make DOMA more important than ever.
By striking down DOMA, the court could broaden the rights of gay couples in the nine states where same-sex marriage is already legal. They could, for example, get the federal tax breaks same-sex couples get.
Edith Windsor, the plaintiff challenging DOMA, brought her case because she had to pay $363,000 in estate taxes when her wife died that a straight spouse wouldn't have had to pay.
The section of DOMA at issue defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman for federal law purposes. The law denies same-sex couples a host of benefits — including the option to take a deceased spouse's social security, take time off from work under the Family Medical Leave Act, and petition for same-sex married partners to immigrate to the U.S.
Then-President Bill Clinton signed DOMA back in 1996 when he was facing intense political pressure from the anti-gay marriage camp.
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