Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Analysis of Today's Same-Sex Marriage Decisions-- Installment 2: What About Section 2 of DOMA?

Today's Supreme Court decision in United States v. Windsor invalidated Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act which provided that same-sex marriages valid under state laws would not be recognized for purposes of federal law.  The majority in its opinion says nothing about Section 2 of DOMA that provides:
No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.
However, can Section 2 escape the majority's broad-brush conclusion that DOMA's "purpose and effect [is] to disparage and to injure those whom the State, by its marriage laws, sought to protect in personhood and dignity"?  Indeed, it is interesting to note that in most of the passages in which Justice Kennedy attributes discriminatory motivations to Congress, he refers broadly to "DOMA", and not just to Section 3.

Even if Section 2 of DOMA is also unconstitutional, this does not automatically mean that other states must give full faith an credit to same-sex marriages performed elsewhere.  There is a long-standing notion that states need not recognize foreign marriages that violate a strong public policy of the state.  The more difficult question, however, is whether after today's decision, a state's refusal to recognize same-sex marriages from other states can be seen as reflecting a constitutionally permissible strong public policy. Justice Kennedy, in referring to states' interest in defining marriage makes a point of adding that this power is "subject to constitutional guarantees."

To the extent that states are still permitted to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages performed elsewhere, difficult questions arise, particularly when a same-sex couple moves to a state which refuses to recognize their marriage.  As Justice Scalia suggests in dissent:
Imagine a pair of women who marry in Albany and then move to Alabama, which does not “recognize as valid any marriage of parties of the same sex.”... When the couple files their next federal tax return, may it be a joint one? Which State’s law controls, for federal-law purposes: their State of celebration (which recognizes the marriage) or their State of domicile (which does not)? (Does the answer depend on whether they were just visiting in Albany?) Are these questions to be answered as a matter of federal common law, or perhaps by borrowing a State’s choice-of-law rules?
Must the federal government continue to respect the marriage valid in the state in which it was performed, even though the state in which the couple now lives refuses to do so? That leads to the "two contradictory marriage regimes" applicable to the same marriage that the Court said it was attempting to avoid by its decision today.