All eyes were on the Supreme Court of the United States Tuesday and Wednesday as nine U.S. Supreme Court Justices heard oral arguments in two very public cases: Hollingsworth v. Perry (Proposition 8) and United States v. Windsor.
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A ruling is expected within three months on the constitutionality of the 1996 law that defines marriage for federal purposes as only between one man and one woman.
Wednesday’s arguments concluded two days of presentations before the high court on one of the most prevalent social issues of this era — the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed and receive the full benefits of law provided to heterosexual couples.
Afterward, Edith “Edie” Windsor, 83, stood on the steps of the courthouse — near the “Equal Justice Under Law” slogan engraved above — and proclaimed something she hid for decades before her challenge against the act known as DOMA.
“I am today an out lesbian, OK, who just sued the United States of America, which is kind of overwhelming for me,” she said. She had just watched almost two hours of oral arguments before the nation’s highest court on how she had to pay higher estate taxes than someone in a heterosexual marriage.
Windsor tried to explain to reporters why she and her late spouse, Thea Spyer, married in New York when the law allowed it after decades together.
Marriage, she said, is “a magic word, for anyone who doesn’t understand why we want it and why we need it.”
“We did win in the lower court,” Windsor added, then later predicted: “I think it’s gonna be good.”
ABC News reports:
Justice Anthony Kennedy, viewed as a key swing vote, appeared critical of the federal government’s declining to recognize marriages that states have made legal.
Kennedy cited concerns about federalism, saying there was a “real risk” of the federal law running into conflict with a state’s power.
“The question,” Kennedy said, “is whether or not the Federal government, under out federalism scheme, has the authority to regulate marriage.”
The four liberal justices expressed similar concerns over federal power, as well as other concerns about equal protection of gay Americans under the law.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked about a marriage that is recognized by the state but not the federal government. She pointed out that a couple who is legally married in their state might be denied marital deductions and Social Security benefits. “Your spouse is very sick, but you can’t get leave,” she said. “One might well ask, what kind of marriage is this?”
Later, Ginsburg said that one marriage is considered regular and the other “skim milk.”
President Barack Obama has already announced his support for repealing the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The Justices heard from three parties, including an attorney hired by House Republicans, to argue in favor of DOMA.