The U.S. Supreme Court Rules Defense Of Marriage Act Unconstitutional: Significant Implications For Employee Benefit Plans

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On June 26, 2013, in U.S. v. Windsor, the US Supreme Court held the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) unconstitutional as a violation of the right to liberty found in the due process clause of the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

DOMA was enacted by Congress in 1996. Section 3 of DOMA provides that for purposes of any federal law “marriage” means a legal union between one man and one woman, and “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite-sex who is a husband or wife. In essence, DOMA prohibited federal law from recognizing same sex marriages, even if permissible under state law. Currently 13 states (including California as a result of another Supreme Court ruling on the same day as Windsor) and the District of Columbia license same-sex marriages.

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