Congress’s passage of the Defense of Marriage Act, defining “marriage” and “spouse” as exclusively between a man and woman, was unconstitutional.
Plaintiff sued as surviving spouse of a same-sex couple that was married in Canada in 2007 and was a resident in New York at the time of her spouse's death in 2009. Plaintiff was denied the benefit of the spousal deduction for federal estate taxes under 26 U.S.C.S. § 2056(a) solely because Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA"), 1 U.S.C. § 7, defines the words "marriage" and "spouse" in federal law in a way that bars the Internal Revenue Service from recognizing plaintiff as a spouse or the couple as married. The text of § 3 is as follows:“In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word "marriage" means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, the word "spouse" refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”At issue was plaintiff's claim for a refund in the amount of $363,053, which turned on the constitutionality of that section of federal law.
Is the DOMA’s definition of “marriage” and “spouse” a constitutional act of Congress?
No, to the extent that there has ever been "uniform" or "consistent" rule in federal law concerning marriage, it is that marriage is ‘a virtually exclusive province of the States.’
To the extent that there has ever been uniform or consistent rule in federal law concerning marriage, it is that marriage is a virtually exclusive province of the States. The states, at the time of the adoption of the Constitution, possessed full power over the subject of marriage and divorce. The Constitution delegated no authority to the Government of the United States on the subject of marriage and divorce. The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was therefore an unprecedented intrusion into an area of traditional state regulation.