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US Supreme Court overturns anti gay marriage provision

The US Supreme Court has struck down a law that defines marriage as between a man and a woman only, in a landmark ruling. The court’s 5-4 vote said the Defense of Marriage Act, known as Doma, denied equal protection to same-sex couples.

The court also declined to rule on a California ban on same-sex marriage known as Proposition 8. The decision paves the way for gay unions there. Opinion polls show that most Americans support gay marriage.

Wednesday’s decisions do not affect the bans on same-sex marriage enshrined in the constitutions of more than 30 US states. Twelve US states and the District of Columbia currently recognise gay marriage.


Doma writes inequality

The Doma decision means that legally married gay men and women are entitled to claim the same federal benefits available to opposite-sex married couples. On Wednesday morning, crowds gathered outside the Supreme Court hours before the rulings were due, in the hope of getting a seat inside the courtroom.

The legal challenge to Doma was brought by New York resident Edith Windsor, 83. A military woman and her wife explain why Doma has made their life as a married couple difficult.

She was handed a tax bill of $363,000 (£236,000) when she inherited the estate of her spouse Thea Speyer - a levy she would not have had to pay if she had been married to a man.

‘Doma writes inequality into the entire United States Code,’ Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in Wednesday’s ruling.

‘Under Doma, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways,’ the decision added.

‘Doma’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.’ Lower courts also ruled in Windsor’s favour, saying that Doma did not treat all married couples equally. In the wake of the ruling on Doma, US President Barack Obama, who is on a state visit to Senegal, tweeted: ‘Today’s DOMA ruling is a historic step forward for #MarriageEquality #LoveIsLove’.

The challenge to Doma did not address the question of whether same-sex marriage is constitutional.

Proposition 8 is a ban on gay marriage passed by California voters in November 2008, just months after the state’s supreme court decided gay marriage was legal.
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