Supreme Court Watch: United States v. Windsor and Hollingsworth v. Perry and the South Asian Community

On June 26, 2013, the Supreme Court issued its opinions in two critical cases involving the issue of marriage equality. In a landmark decision, United States v. Windsor, the Court invalidated Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defined marriage as between “one man and one woman” and only recognized opposite-sex marriages for purposes of federal law. Following the enactment of DOMA in 1996, same-sex partners were denied federal benefits, including those under federal tax, housing, Social Security, and immigration laws, and exclusively granted them heterosexual married couples. Prior to the decision in Windsor, denial of such benefits was allowed, even if couples lived in individual states that recognized their marriage. In its decision, the Court found that DOMA violated principles of “equal liberty of persons” enshrined in the 5th Amendment. (It is important to note that the Court did not rule on Section 2 of DOMA, which permits individual states to enact legislation that refuses to recognize marriages between same-sex partners.) In a separate case, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court dismissed an appeal to reinstate Proposition 8, a ballot initiative passed by California voters in 2008 that prohibited marriage between same-sex partners and was subsequently barred from being enforced by lower courts, on the grounds that those seeking appeal did not have the legal standing to do so. As a result, the lower court ruling preventing the enforcement of Proposition 8 remains intact.

As an organization that has long supported marriage equality, SAALT applauds the rulings by the Supreme Court in these two cases. In particular, the Windsor decision will positively transform the lives of South Asian Americans involved in committed relationships by ensuring that they can no longer be denied vital federal benefits simply based upon whom they love or marry. This decision also paves the way for the South Asians in same-sex binational marriages (recognized by the state or country where they were married) to avail themselves of federal immigration benefits, including the ability to sponsor their spouse under the family immigration system and petition for loved ones living abroad. For too long, couples in this situation have lived in a perilous legal limbo, as we discussed in a recent oped. Such uncertainty often results in individuals overstaying their visas to remain together or living abroad in exile. SAALT commends the Court’s decisions to reaffirm the principles of equality and fairness and looks forward to working with federal agencies to ensure that community members will be able to access the federal benefits provided to them as a result of this ruling.

For further information on the Court’s decision on DOMA will affect eligibility for various federal benefits, check out the ACLU’s website here.

For further information on how the Court’s decision on DOMA will affect immigrant families and couples, check out Immigration Equality’s FAQ.

SAALT thanks Priya Murthy for her assistance in providing analysis and writing.