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Introduction to the case
One of the most famous civil rights cases in the country, which contributed to the provision of homosexual rights, is United States v. Windsor. It involved Edith Windsor and Thea Spy, a same-sex couple that lived in New York (Schubert 318). The couple had formalized their marriage in Canada before moving to New York. However, the two had a hard time living as a couple in New York, which did not recognize same-sex marriages.
Windsor filed this case in 2010 against the Federal government soon after the death of her partner (Kennedy 871). Windsor accused the government of differential treatment of couples in homosexual marriages because she was denied the privilege of exemption from tax granted to individuals whose spouses die. Windsor was being asked by the government to pay a tax of over $360,000 for an estate she had inherited from Spyer after her death (Schubert 319).
The reason Windsor was denied the privilege was the fact that the constitution defined marriage as a union between a man and a woman only. The main reason as to why Windsor filed this lawsuit was to compel the government to change the definition of a marriage in order for her to receive the refund of the money paid as estate tax (Michel 274). In addition, she wanted to fight for her rights as an individual in a homosexual marriage who deserved to enjoy benefits received by couples in heterosexual marriages (Schubert 319). Windsor felt that the definition of marriage, as stated in defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), was discriminatory and contributed to the increased marginalization of people in same-sex relationships (Kennedy 872).
The court process
The case was filed by Windsor’s legal representatives in 2010 at the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. According to a statement released by Eric Holder, the Attorney General on 23rd February 2011, this was not the first lawsuit filed in the court seeking to compel the government to review certain clauses in section 3 of DOMA (Kennedy 875). Although the Department of Justice (DOJ) had addressed the same issue in earlier lawsuits, it identified that this case required high scrutiny owing to the fact that it was filed in the Second Circuit Court of Appeals (Michel 278).
This denied the DOJ a chance to defend the controversial clauses because this kind of court did not apply a system of jurisprudence based on judicial precedents rather than statutory laws. Through her statement, Windsor argued that certain clauses contained in DOMA did not qualify the criteria used in classifying people based on their sexual orientation (Michel 278). In addition, she argued that the clauses compromised the independence of states to develop their own legislation with regard to the definition of marriage (Kennedy 877).
The ruling given by Judge Barbara Jones stated that the controversial clauses were unconstitutional because they contradicted the Fifth Amendment of the constitution, which gave equal protection to all Americans. This was a clear violation of the rights of the complainant (Schubert 322). After the ruling, Windsor’s lawyers filed a formal request in the court of appeal to have the ruling made in the district court upheld. After the court of appeal ruling, the DOJ moved to the Supreme Court and made a formal request to uphold the ruling made by the two lower courts regarding the unconstitutionality of section 3 of DOMA (Kennedy 881).
On 26th June 2013, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of the complainant by upholding earlier rulings. The judge directed that Windsor was set to receive a refund for the estate tax she had paid along with the accumulated interest. The majority opinion authored by Judge Anthony Kennedy stated that the federal government had constitutional limitations with regard to its ability to recognize homosexual marriages from state jurisdictions that sanctioned them (Michel 280).
There was a need to recognize legislation from other jurisdictions. The judges stated that the constitution protected everyone, thus the need by the federal government to uphold the immunity from the arbitrary exercise of authority enjoyed by states. On the other hand, dissenting opinions were authored by justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Samuel Alito (Michel 282). The judges identified that the lawsuit was basically about the ability of people to fight for their rights, as well as testing the independence of courts. In addition, they agreed that upholding the rulings made in the lower courts was the best decision (Schubert 330).
According to Judge Scalia, the ruling made during the case was a big blow to people that opposed same-sex marriages, as the constitution allowed states to exercise their independence with regard to the legalization of homosexual unions. He further added that it was not right to accuse people opposed to homosexual marriages of disrespecting human dignity (Michel 286).
Society responses & impact
The ruling made in the case attracted a number of responses from various people. One of the people who responded to the ruling was President Obama, who described it as a big step towards enhancing democracy in the country. He said “My personal belief, but I’m speaking now as a president as opposed to as a lawyer, is that if you’ve been married in Massachusetts and you move someplace else, you’re still married and that under federal law you should be able to obtain benefits of any lawfully married couple.” The conclusion of this case bore a new lease of life for couples in homosexual marriages, as they started receiving federal benefits that were given to couples in heterosexual unions (Michel 290).
Some of the benefits that homosexual couples started receiving included immigration rights, exemption from certain taxes, health insurance, and opportunities to join the military, among many others (Kennedy 883). Another effect of the case was extended recognition of same-sex marriages by the federal government as long as the unions are formalized under state jurisdictions that legalize their propagation (Michel 290). This has played a crucial role in addressing the challenge of stigmatization against people in same-sex relationships because most people often considered them as social misfits. In addition, the ruling encouraged the efforts of civil rights activists who have been fighting for equal treatment of all Americans for very many years (Michel 291).
Conclusion & personal opinion
The United States of America is one of the few countries in the world that hold the greatest responsibility for influencing numerous changes in the institution of marriage. Most changes about marriage that have taken place in the United States involve couples in same-sex relationships. The fight for homosexual rights in America has dragged on for several years. It has been characterized by numerous court cases involving couples in same-sex relationships and the government over the provision of their rights. I believe that the ruling made during the case was right and a big boost to the activities of civil rights activists.
Kennedy, David. The American Spirit: United States History as Seen by Contemporaries. New York: Cengage Learning, 2015. Print.
Michel, Steven. American Government. New York: Lulu.com, 2014. Print.
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Schubert, Frank. Introduction to Law and the Legal System. New York: Cengage Learning, 2014. Print.