The Supreme Court published its long-awaited decision in the Windsor case today. In a 5-4 decision, the Court held Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional. What this means for same-sex couples across the country will ultimately depend on where they live. In North Carolina, it is likely that the Court’s decision will have little impact.
DOMA created a federal law defining marriage, for the purposes of determining federal entitlements, as the union of a man and woman. While federal law has historically allowed the individual states to define marriage in terms determined by each state, DOMA changed the playing field when it came to federal programs. So for federal income taxes, a legally married same-sex couple in New York could not file jointly, or receive the spousal exemption upon one spouse’s death (this was the case in Windsor). The Court’s striking down Section 3 of DOMA will now level the playing field for same-sex couples, if they happen to live in one of the approximately 12 jurisdictions that recognize same sex marriage.
North Carolina does not recognize same-sex marriage and so many of the benefits of the Court’s decision will have little impact here. This fact could have significant repercussions in the future. Stay tuned for additional updates.