Live: DOMA at the U.S. Supreme Court

The Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. Even if a same-sex couple is legally married in a state, they still do not have access to the federal benefits opposite-sex married couples have.

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  1. Highlights from the hearing

    On the purpose of federal marriage benefits:
    JUSTICE ALITO: Suppose we look just at the estate tax provision that's at issue in this case, which provides specially favorable treatment to a married couple, as opposed to any other individual or economic unit. What was the purpose of that? Was the purpose of that really to foster traditional marriage, or was Congress just looking for a convenient category to capture households that function as a unified economic unit?

    On the president's responsibility to enforce the law:
    CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: I would have thought your answer would be that the Executive's obligation to execute the law includes the obligation to execute the law consistent with the Constitution. And if he has made a determination that executing the law by enforcing the terms is unconstitutional, I don't see why he doesn't have the courage of his convictions and execute not only the statute, but do it consistent with his view of the Constitution, rather than saying, oh, we'll wait till the Supreme Court tells us we have no choice.

    On states' power vs. federal power:
    JUSTICE KENNEDY: Well, [DOMA] applies to over, what, 1,100 federal laws, I think we are saying....Which, in our society, means that the federal government is intertwined with the citizens' day-to-day life, you are at real risk of running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence of the State police power, which is to regulate marriage, divorce, custody.

    On DOMA creating two classes of marriage:
    JUSTICE GINSBERG: It's, as Justice Kennedy said, 1,100 statues, and it affects every area of life. And so he was really diminishing what the State has said is marriage. You're saying, no, State said two kinds of marriage; the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage.

    On the Justice Department not defending the law:
    CHIEF JUSTICE ROBERTS: No, it's not just -- it's not unusual. It's totally unprecedented.

    On 'new world' in which the Justice Department doesn't defend the law:
    JUSTICE SCALIA: When I was at the Office of Legal Counsel, there was an opinion...which says that the Attorney General will defend the laws of the United States, except in two circumstances: 

    Number one, where the basis for the alleged unconstitutionality has to do with presidential powers....The second situation is where no possible rational argument could be made in defense of it. 

    Now, neither of those situations exists here. And I'm wondering if we're living in this new world where the Attorney General can simply decide, yeah, it's unconstitutional, but it's not so unconstitutional that I'm not willing to enforce it, if we're in this new world, I -- I don't want these cases like this to come before this Court all the time.

    And I think they will come all the time if that's -- if that's -- if that's the new regime in the Justice Department that we're dealing with.
  2. KQED's Scott Shafer caught up with Shannon Minter, the legal director of the National Center for Lesbian rights, based in San Francisco.

    "I was really encouraged by today's argument," Minter said. "I think that enough justices have serious questions about whether the federal government has the power to enact a law like DOMA and also have real questions about whether they had a legitimate reason to do so."
  3. San Francisco resident Karen Golinski (right) and her spouse Amy Cunninghis got married in 2008 in California when it was legal. But when Golinski, a federal employee, was unable to add Cunninghis to her health care plan thanks to DOMA, she sued in federal court. The outcome of today's arguments before the Supreme Court could determine the outcome of her case. 

    "I'm tired of my life being so much harder than everybody else's," Golinski told KQED's Scott Shafer last week. "I just want it to be the same. I'm not asking for special benefits or special privileges. I just want to be treated equally like all my neighbors."
  4. Golinski and Cunninghis
  5. Audio and transcripts released for this morning's arguments:
  6. Update: DOMA defense will not make a statement.
  7. Edie Windsor, the center of today's case, sued to overturn DOMA. Windsor was required to pay more than $360,000 in inheritance taxes after her wife Thea Spyer passed away because the federal government did not recognize her marriage, even though it was legal in the state of New York. Learn more about her on NPR.

    The crowd is falling in love with the 84-year old:
  8. Edie Windsor, the respondent in today's DOMA case, spoke about her marriage to Thea Spyer on the steps of the Supreme Court: