Thursday, June 27, 2013

U.S. Supreme Court Finds Federal DOMA Unconstitutional

By Laurie A. Hunter, Esq.

On June 26, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, determined that the federal DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) that prohibited recognition of a valid same-sex marriage under state law was unconstitutional. U.S. v. Windsor. In this case, the surviving spouse of a valid same-sex marriage filed a U.S. Estate Tax Return, claiming the marital deduction for assets passing to her. The marital deduction was denied by the IRS, and tax assessed. This decision makes clear that for a valid marriage under state law, the federal government cannot deny benefits to a spouse.

What this decision does not do: It did not address the validity of a state’s "DOMA" laws, which Colorado has passed, in which a state refuses to recognize the validity of a same-sex marriage that is valid under another state’s law. This may be the next case that reaches a court. It also does not address civil unions, that are specifically not marriage. In Colorado’s new Civil Union statute, a valid same-sex marriage in another state automatically converts to a civil union in Colorado. Therefore, it may be that couples married in a state where same-sex marriage is valid, would still not be entitled to spousal benefits in Colorado, but they could be entitled to federal spousal benefits. The effect is unclear at this point.