Thursday, June 21, 2018
News Roundup

Supreme Court justices question validity of Defense of Marriage Act

WASHINGTON — With one justice declaring there are "two kinds of marriage: the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage," the U.S. Supreme Court on Wednesday seemed poised to strike down a federal law denying benefits to legally wed gay couples.

Questions from the court's four liberal justices and its swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, sided with critics of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and woman.

Kennedy appeared to reject the argument that the law was solely to provide uniformity. Because it applies to about 1,100 benefits and programs, he said, it makes government "intertwined with the citizens' day-to-day life" and runs the "real risk" of conflicting with states' rights to regulate marriage.

"It's not really uniformity because it regulates only one aspect of marriage. It doesn't regulate all of marriage," Kennedy told Paul Clement, lawyer for a U.S. House Republican group that stepped in to defend the law widely known as DOMA after President Barack Obama deemed it unconstitutional.

Hundreds of gay marriage supporters assembled outside were decidedly more upbeat than Tuesday, when the court was hesitant to go too fast in ruling on a California initiative that reversed gay marriage.

"It went beautifully," said Edith Windsor, the 83-year-old New York woman who brought the DOMA case after being denied an estate tax exemption for her deceased spouse.

Marveling in the sunshine, before a wall of reporters, Windsor spoke of how public attitudes have evolved. Ten years ago, she said, "I'd have been hiding in the closet."

New York, eight other states and the District of Columbia recognize gay marriage, while 12 others allow civil unions or domestic partnerships. If DOMA is ruled unconstitutional, gay couples would be eligible for a host of benefits, from tax breaks to survivor benefits.

As with Tuesday, the arguments began with a technical series of questions over legal standing — from the House Republicans' right to intervene to Obama's decision to join the case against the law while still enforcing it.

"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," Chief Justice John Roberts vented.

But on the merits, there was a strong sense DOMA is in a precarious spot with a five-member majority of justices.

It was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who made the milk analogy, suggesting the federal law created two types of marriage.

"With respect, Justice Ginsburg, that's not what the federal government is saying," Clement replied, saying it was assumed the government has authority to define terms that appear in statutes. He argued that the government has "a legitimate interest to weigh into the debate" and define marriage for the purpose of a variety of benefits and obligations.

Clement explained that at the time DOMA passed under President Bill Clinton, Hawaii was considering gay marriage and lawmakers were concerned that it would force acceptance by the federal government and other states. "And what Congress says is, wait a minute. Let's take a time out here. This is a redefinition of an age-old institution. Let's take a more cautious approach where every sovereign gets to do this for themselves."

But he was again put on the defensive by Justice Elena Kagan, who quoted a House report on DOMA that said, "Congress decided to reflect an honor of collective moral judgment and to express moral disapproval of homosexuality."

"Is that what happened in 1996?" Kagan pointedly asked Clement, causing a stir in the courtroom.

"Sure, the House report says some things that we are not — we've never invoked in trying to defend the statute," he replied. "But the House report says other things, like Congress was trying to promote democratic self-governance."

At one point, Donald Verrilli, the U.S. solicitor general, challenged that assertion.

"This statute is not called the Federal Uniform Marriage Benefits Act; it's called the Defense of Marriage Act. And the reason for that is because the statute is not directed at uniformity in the administration of federal benefits," he said.

Chief Justice Roberts asked Windsor's attorney, Roberta Kaplan, if she thought the 84 senators who voted for DOMA in 1996 were motivated by "bigotry."

Choosing her words carefully, Kaplan said many voted "based on an understanding that gay — an incorrect understanding that gay couples were fundamentally different than straight couples, an understanding that I don't think exists today."

Roberts also suggested the political shift in favor of gay marriage is due to interest-group lobbying. "As far as I can tell, political figures are falling over themselves to endorse your side of the case," he said.

Kaplan replied: "To flip the language of the House Report, Mr. Chief Justice, I think it comes from a moral understanding today that gay people are no different, and that gay married couples' relationships are not significantly different from the relationships of straight married people."

Windsor sued the government after she was denied a marriage exemption on $363,053 in estate taxes for her deceased spouse, Thea Spyer. She said it violated the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment.

"If Thea was Theo," Windsor said Sunday on NPR, "I would not have had to pay" those taxes. "It's just a terrible injustice, and I don't expect that from my country. I think it's a mistake that has to get corrected."

DOMA was passed in the Clinton era when politicians almost universally objected to gay marriage. The former president now says he regrets signing the law.

In a March 7 op-ed column in the Washington Post, Clinton wrote that "it was a very different time. In no state in the union was same-sex marriage recognized, much less available as a legal right, but some were moving in that direction. Washington, as a result, was swirling with all manner of possible responses, some quite draconian." He went on to say that the thinking was DOMA would diffuse the effort to enact amendments banning gay marriage.

"When I signed the bill, I included a statement with the admonition that 'enactment of this legislation should not, despite the fierce and at times divisive rhetoric surrounding it, be understood to provide an excuse for discrimination,' " Clinton wrote. "Reading those words today, I know now that, even worse than providing an excuse for discrimination, the law is itself discriminatory. It should be overturned."

Clement urged the court to let the public decide. "That's what the democratic process requires. You have to persuade somebody you're right. You don't label them a bigot. You don't label them as motivated by animus. You persuade them you are right. That's going on across the country. . . . Allow the democratic process to continue."

The court is expected to rule on both same-sex marriage cases in late June.

Alex Leary can be reached at [email protected]

 
Comments
Armature Works developers sue Ulele and city of Tampa over use of nearby building

Armature Works developers sue Ulele and city of Tampa over use of nearby building

TAMPA — Two of the city’s hottest developers — the companies behind Ulele and the Armature Works — are heading to court over control of an old city building that sits between the hit eateries. Both want to redevelop the city&...
Updated: 0 minutes ago
Medal of Honor recipient tells teachers to push kids up, not out

Medal of Honor recipient tells teachers to push kids up, not out

Gary Littrell spent the first 17 years of his life in "survival mode." Then he joined the U.S. Army — twice — and was shipped off to Vietnam.Littrell was awarded a Congressional Medal of Honor in 1973, for actions he took that saved lives.The award h...
Updated: 22 minutes ago

Deputies: Cheerleading coach sent explicit images to 16-year-old

A 28-year-old cheerleading coach faces charges for engaging in "inappropriate behavior" with a 16-year-old girl, according to the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office.Victor Martin Valenty faces 10 counts of traveling to meet a minor, distributing ob...
Updated: 1 hour ago
St. Pete police: Three lieutenants lied about their work hours

St. Pete police: Three lieutenants lied about their work hours

ST. PETERSBURG — Three lieutenants responsible for supervising the police officers who patrol the city were found to have been faking their work hours instead of showing up for duty on time.In some cases, the watch commanders submitted time sheets st...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Next move is simple for the Bucs: Get rid of Jameis Winston

Next move is simple for the Bucs: Get rid of Jameis Winston

Trade him. Waive him. Cut him.Whatever.Just get rid of him.Jameis Winston should never play another game for the Tampa Bay Bucs.Plain and simple, he's a bad guy and the Bucs should have nothing more to do with him.He's already going to miss the first...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Deputies: Zephyrhills bank robbed, suspect flees on bicycle

Deputies: Zephyrhills bank robbed, suspect flees on bicycle

A Suntrust Bank in Zephyr-hills was robbed early Thursday afternoon, according to the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office.At 12:50 p.m., deputies said, the man walked into the bank at 34511 State Road 54 and presented a note demanding money, though he did ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Timeline of investigations, suspensions and allegations involving Jameis Winston

Timeline of investigations, suspensions and allegations involving Jameis Winston

The NFL will suspend Bucs quarterback Jameis Winston at least three games without pay for violating the league's personal conduct policy. Winston's suspension could be increased if he fails to meet certain undisclosed requirements expected to be...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Jameis Winston suspension means Bucs will turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB

Jameis Winston suspension means Bucs will turn to Ryan Fitzpatrick at QB

The news of Jameis Winston's suspension to start the upcoming season likely means that the Bucs will have veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick stepping in at quarterback for three crucial games.Fitzpatrick stepped in as a starter for three games last year when W...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Three-game suspension looms for Bucs QB Jameis Winston

Three-game suspension looms for Bucs QB Jameis Winston

TAMPA — The Bucs will open the upcoming season without the face of their franchise, as quarterback Jameis Winston will be suspended three games by the NFL for violating the league's personal conduct policy.Winston, 24, was accused of groping a ...
Updated: 1 hour ago
Domain Homes: Buyers love them, some others don’t

Domain Homes: Buyers love them, some others don’t

TAMPA — When the 2008 financial crash brought down the nation’s housing market, hundreds of home builders went out of business. Among them was Sharon McSwain Homes in Atlanta, forced to liquidate in 2009.But just as developers like to develop, builde...
Updated: 1 hour ago