What does the DOMA Decision Mean?

There’s been a lot of news coverage surrounding the Supreme Court’s decision on June 26, 2013, of the U.S. v. Windsor case.  Most people are more familiar with the colloquial reference to the case as the “DOMA case.”  However, what does the Supreme Court’s decision actually mean?

In a nutshell, the Supreme Court held unconstitutional the provision within the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) which defined “marriage” as a legal union between a man and a woman wherein the spouse is a member of the opposite sex.  This provision was determined unconstitutional because it violated the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment by “contriv[ing] to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not other couples, of both rights and responsibilities.”

In striking down this provision of DOMA, the Court altered the rights of same-sex couples under federal law; however, it did not affect those same couples’ rights under state laws.

In following, although the Windsor decision may be heralded as a key movement toward marital equality by the LGBT community under federal law, it also marks a turning point where application of differing state laws may make estate planning for same-sex couples all the more tenuous and hence all the more important.

To learn more about the “DOMA” decision and what it may mean for you and your loved one, please contact an experienced estate planning attorney near you.

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