New York Daily News

Wisdom on gay marriage


In striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act, the U.S. Supreme Court wisely ruled Wednesday that the federal government must pay due respect to every state’s judgment on same-sex unions. State by state, soon to be 13 states in all, Americans have moved toward blessing same-sex marriage. New Yorkers are among them. Yet DOMA defined marriage for federal purposes as between a man and a woman, denying gay couples the U.S. benefits extended to heterosexu­al marrieds.

Enacted in 1996, the statute represente­d an unwarrante­d federal intrusion into the definition of marriage, a matter that has always belonged solely to the states.

The intent of Congress and of then-President Bill Clinton was to erect a bulwark against the spread of same-sex unions. The unfair effect was to deny to gay couples in state-sanctioned marriages more than 1,000 tax and other benefits that are automatica­lly conferred on straights in statesanct­ioned marriages.

One of the penalized couples happened to have been New Yorkers Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer. After Spyer died in 2009, Windsor gained an inheritanc­e along with a $360,000 estate tax bill that an opposite-sex spouse would have been spared. She sued and made history.

Writing for a 5-to-4 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy pronounced that “DOMA seeks to injure the very class New York seeks to protect,” and there was little else that needed to be said.

Separately, the court issued a second ruling, this one in a case from California that had the potential for a decree that the U.S. Constituti­on guarantees gays a right to marry. Such a ruling would have overridden the laws in the 37 states where gay marriage is not recognized.

The court, again wisely, refrained from a broad holding that would have touched off heated culture wars across the country. Instead, with different justices aligning in a 5-to-4 vote, the bench held that the parties who waged the California appeal had lacked the legal standing to do so.

The result was that a California Supreme Court ruling that granted gay marriage rights to people of that state is now, in effect, the law there.

The logic that joins both the DOMA ruling and the California case is that, ultimately, the fate of gay marriage should be left to the states to decide in due course through the consensus-building of the political process.

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