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.