Today, the US Supreme Court issued two important rulings for marriage equality.
“Today is a great day for marriage equality both in Washington state and across the country,” Ferguson said.
In a 5-4 ruling in U.S. v. Windsor , the court declared the section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.
In its decision, the court upheld a ruling by the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, finding section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional because it violated the Fifth Amendment—the Equal Protection Clause of the U.S. Constitution—by denying federal benefits to same-sex couples who were legally married under the laws of their state.
In this case, the Internal Revenue Service denied Ms. Windsor a refund on federal estate taxes when her same-sex spouse died—a refund she would have received had her spouse been of the opposite sex.
While the state of New York recognized the couple’s marriage, the IRS denied the refund under section 3 of DOMA. Section 3 declared that any time “marriage” or “spouse” appears in any federal law, it only applies to a marriage of a man and a woman.
Washington joined 14 other states and the District of Columbia in a “friend-of-the-court” brief, agreeing with the Second Circuit Court of Appeals’ ruling.
“This ruling is vitally important to the people of Washington. Now that Washington voters have approved same-sex marriage, couples in our state could have found themselves in similar situations—being denied federal benefits provided to other couples,” Ferguson said. “It was important that Washington’s voice be heard in this case.”
In another 5-4 ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry, the court ruled the proponents of California’s Proposition 8 who appealed the case lacked standing—the ability to bring the case—and that the Ninth Circuit should have never ruled on the case. The decision leaves intact the lower court ruling that Prop. 8—which denied same sex couples the right to marry—was unconstitutional.
Washington joined 12 other states in a “friend-of-the-court” brief, supporting the Ninth Circuit’s ruling and arguing that Prop. 8 violated the Equal Protection Clause because there is no rational basis for California to deny same sex couples the right to marry on an equal basis as opposite sex couples.
The Washington State Legislature approved Senate Bill 5688, the “everything-but-marriage” bill, in 2009. Under the measure, same-sex couples were granted the right to enter into domestic partnerships with all the legal rights and responsibilities of married couples, except that a domestic partnership was not a marriage. Opponents garnered enough signatures to refer the measure to voters as Referendum 71, but voters ultimately affirmed these rights of same sex couples by a vote of more than 53 percent.
In 2012, the Legislature approved Senate Bill 6239, legalizing same-sex marriage. Once again, opponents garnered enough signatures to refer the measure to voters. Referendum 74 was approved by nearly 54 percent at the November election – making Washington the ninth state in the nation to legalize same-sex marriage.
The states that joined the Perry brief include: Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. The Attorney General of California filed a separate brief in support of equal marriage rights.
The states that joined the Windsor brief include: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Iowa, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Washington and the District of Columbia.