Widener Law Professors Offer Perspective on Supreme Court Rulings in DOMA, Prop 8 Cases
Web Editor - Published: June 27, 2013
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Professor John G. Culhane

“The language used by Justice Kennedy in the DOMA case was sweeping, and can and will be used by state and federal courts to declare exclusions of same-sex couples from marriage to be denials of basic dignity. In the meantime, same-sex couples legally married in their state of residence will be able to enjoy the many federal benefits – and assume the manifold responsibilities – associated with marriage,” said Professor and Health Law Institute Director John G. Culhane of yesterday’s Supreme Court ruling in United States v. Windsor that struck down the portion of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that defined marriage as solely between one man and one woman.

Speaking to Delaware’s NPR station, WDDE 91.1 FM, Distinguished Professor of Law Alan Garfield expanded on the range of effects the ruling will have, saying of legally married same-sex couples, “They’ll now be able to be entitled to all of the federal benefits that married couples get that DOMA had denied them. So, that’s major in terms of estate tax, income taxes, veterans benefits, the whole range — I mean DOMA I think applied to like a thousand laws.”

Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan joined Justice Kennedy in the majority on the 5-4 ruling. Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Scalia, Thomas and Alito dissented.

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Distinguished Professor Alan Garfield

In a Wilmington News Journal article, Culhane observed that the decision did not simply rest on the right of individual states to define marriage, but rather on the principle that the federal government could not same-sex couples the equality provided by states that allow same-sex marriage.He also noted that the there will be difficult legal questions ahead when same-sex couples that are married and a state that allows marriage try to claim federal benefits in a state that does not.

The Supreme Court also ruled on California’s Proposition 8 in Hollingsworth v. Perry with a 5-4 majority with Chief Justice John Roberts writing a majority opinion that a private party did not have the right to defend the constitutionality of a state statute when state officials opted not to do so. Justices Scalia, Ginsburg, Breyer and Kagan joined Roberts in the majority.

“The decision in the Prop 8 case was grounded on a procedural point, but the result will be dramatic nonetheless: full marriage equality is coming to California, and very soon ,” said Culhane, observing that the federal appellate court was instructed by the Supreme Court to dismiss the appeal.

“Given that about one in nine Americans live in California, this is a very significant result,” he concluded.