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Same-sex couple Steven Jones (C) and Jamous Lizzotte (R) pose for a photo by Doug Emerson (L) as they wait to receive marriage licenses at the City Hall in Portland, Maine December 29, 2012. REUTERS/Joel Page
Before the court: Whether the federal government will recognize this marriage.
Tuesday the Supreme Court heard arguments on California's anti-marriage equality Prop 8. Wednesday the court takes up provisions in the Defense of Marriage Act, specifically the part of the law that denies federal benefits to gay and lesbian couples legally married in states or countries where that's possible. And while the challenge to Prop 8 has gotten the most attention, the challenge to even part of DOMA is also hugely important.

The DOMA case the Supreme Court is considering, United States v. Windsor, was brought by Edith Windsor, now 83 years old, after she was forced to pay $360,000 in taxes after inheriting the estate of Thea Spyer, despite their having been married in Canada. In December, Adam Serwer wrote that:

Between striking down part of a heavy-handed federal statute and helping someone get a tax cut, it's the kind of same-sex marriage case even a conservative justice could love. Most importantly, from the point of view of getting the requisite five votes, striking down that part of DOMA would not prevent states from banning same-sex marriage.
Once again, before hearing arguments on the substance of the challenge to DOMA, the court will hear arguments on whether it should be hearing this case in the first place, given that the Obama administration is not defending the law and that the standing of the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (technically bipartisan but controlled by Republicans) to defend the law is in question. But assuming the court decides it can, in fact, decide on this case, it will be deciding on whether married gay and lesbian couples can qualify for federal benefits like the married-couple tax exemption that Edith Windsor was denied.

In fact, there are a lot of benefits and rights hinging on this case. As of 2004 there were 1,138 federal statutes "in which marital status is a factor in determining or receiving benefits, rights, and privileges." Big-ticket items include widows and widowers being eligible for their spouses' Social Security benefits, employer-provided spousal health benefits no longer being taxed, medical benefits for the spouses of people in or retired from the military, health insurance for the spouses of federal employees, and the ability to sponsor immigrant spouses for legal status. Just to name a few giant, life-changing effects of DOMA's discrimination against some people's marriages

As usual, Justice Anthony Kennedy is expected to be the swing vote.

Originally posted to Laura Clawson on Wed Mar 27, 2013 at 06:26 AM PDT.

Also republished by Daily Kos.

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