Ohio State law professor: Impact of gay marriage ruling ‘remains to be seen’
Published: Monday, October 22, 2012
Updated: Tuesday, October 23, 2012 00:10
Less than a week after a federal appeals court ruled the Defense of Marriage Act’s denial of benefits to same-sex married couples unconstitutional, members of the Ohio State community are reacting.
The Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, was passed in 1996 and defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. It basically puts the decision of the legality of same-sex marriages in the states’ hands.
The ruling occurred in the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York Thursday. Two of the three presiding judges ruled that the law could not constitutionally deny federal benefits to married same-sex couples.
The court was ruling in favor of Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old lesbian who was widowed in 2009. Windsor had to pay $363,000 in federal estate taxes.
Therefore, Windsor’s attorneys argue that the law violates the equal protection clause 14th Amendment.
In the aftermath of the ruling, there has been some uncertainty over DOMA’s future.
“The constitutional future of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, and more specifically, the provision of it struck down … remains to be seen,” said Marc Spindelman, a professor in the OSU Moritz College of Law, in an email.
The majority opinion was written by Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, who was nominated to the bench by former President George H.W. Bush.
“As a legal matter, the value of legal precedent does not depend on party affiliation, the thought being that judges sit and decide cases as judges, not as members of political parties,” Spindelman said. “As a political matter, many may well think it significant that the constitutional flaws of the federal Defense of Marriage Act are increasingly visible to judges across major party lines.”
The Supreme Court may hear arguments over DOMA within the coming months, but it would be too early to predict the outcome, Spindelman said.
“Some commentators speculate that the Supreme Court may be willing to strike down the provision of the federal law at issue … because family law, including marriage law, is primarily and traditionally a matter of state concern, and this federal law does not give state marriage rules the ordinary legal respect they are thought to deserve and usually receive,” he said. “But it’s too soon to make any confident predictions about likely outcomes. There are too many moving legal pieces in this case, and the other same-sex marriage cases (are) now pending before the Supreme Court to know.”
If the Supreme Court upheld the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals’ decision, it could affect “other laws that discriminate against lesbians and gay men, like state bans on same-sex marriage, including Ohio’s, which would come in for close judicial inspection, with courts taking a very close — and skeptical — look at the reasons said to justify such discrimination,” Spindelman said.
The logic that the court used in their decision could be embraced by courts in other states both at the state and federal level, which could lead to scrutiny on “other laws that discriminate against lesbians and gay men” he said.
Some members of the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community appreciated the ruling, such as Thomas Watts, a second-year in economics and a member of the Gay and Allied Fraternity Interest Group.
“I applaud Judge Jacobs on how he ruled it,” he said. “It’s a wonderful thing to see.”
However, Watts pointed out that only a provision of the law was ruled unconstitutional.
“I (would) like to see Defense of Marriage Act repealed entirely or inclusive of gay couples,” he said. “There’s no valid reason why same-sex couples shouldn’t have the same benefits as heterosex couples.”
Stephanie Weisfeld, a third-year in French and international studies, agreed that same-sex couples should be entitled to marriage benefits.
“I just think everyone should have equal rights,” she said. “Making it illegal is definitely not separation of church and state.”