The court, with the usual 5-4 “political” split, ruled that married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits such as health care, Social Security, life insurance and survivor tax policies.
Edith Windsor of New York offers a good example of how survivors in gay marriages will benefit. When her female partner died, the IRS refused to treat her as a surviving spouse as it would have for a husband. She was assessed a tax bill of $363,000 for inheritance of her partner’s estate.
Justice Kennedy, writing the majority opinion, declared: “DOMA instructed all people with whom same-sex couples interact, including their own children, that their marriage is less worthy than the marriage of others.” He said the statute disparaged the dignity of gay couples.
Adam Liptak, Supreme Court reporter for the New York Times, noted that Kennedy announced the opinion to a hushed courtroom “in a stately tone that indicated he was delivering a civil rights landmark.”
He was. Justices Breyer, Ginsburg, Kagan and Sotomayor joined his opinion.
Antediluvian sourpuss Justice Scalia complained in his bitter dissent that “anyone opposed to same-sex marriage is an enemy of human decency.” He slammed the Kennedy opinion as “a jaw-dropping assertion of judicial supremacy over the will of the people expressed by Congress.”
But the determination of the people is often wrong as it was in California’s vote to ban gay marriage in Proposition 8.
Other DOMA dissenters were Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Alito. Roberts, during oral argument, argued fatuously that the institution of marriage “didn’t include homosexual couples.” He was wrong.
The reality is that gay characters and celebrities are prevalent in America: TV, sports and rap music. Thirty percent of the population lives in states that allow same-sex marriage.
As Martin Luther King said: “The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice.” It did just that in the DOMA ruling.
Affirmative action defeat
The court punted on affirmative action, sending a case originating at the University of Texas, Austin, back to the lower courts for stricter scrutiny.
That means the court, by a 7-1 vote, no longer deems affirmative action necessary.
Justice Scalia expressed that view, saying he would overturn any racial preferences.
But Justice Ginsburg in dissent set the court straight. She said the plan to take students from the top 10 percent of the state’s public high schools was adopted to combat racially segregated schools and neighborhoods.
Ginsburg, a former civil rights lawyer, declared:
“Only an ostrich could regard the supposedly neutral alternatives as race unconscious. State universities need not be blind to the lingering effects of an overtly discriminatory past, the legacy of law-sanctioned inequality.
“Race-consciousness is preferable to some backdoor effort to address inequality by concealing mention of it. Moreover, the University of Texas considers race as but one of many factors in the admissions process.”
Ginsburg is so tiny that at oral arguments before the Supreme Court she is barely visible behind the high bench. But her heart and mind are mighty. Amid the dismal Roberts Court, Ginsburg is a magnificent justice.
Jake Highton is an emeritus journalism professor at the University of Nevada, Reno.