The 5 Steps in the DOMA Decision That Will Overturn all Traditional Marriage Laws.

By Tom Del Beccaro, on Jun 27, 2013

The 5 Steps in the DOMA Decision That Will Overturn all Traditional Marriage Laws

My goal of  my writing is to place events in historical context - to let you see the part, in light of the whole, as Will Durant would say. With that understanding . . . 

I am not surprised with the decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This nation began as a country in which federal law started where state law ended - not the other way around. States were to be the incubators and center of our laws.  

Of all our presidents, James Monroe embraced that principle, perhaps best and most succinctly, in his 25,000 word veto of a $6,000 Congressional appropriation to fix the Cumberland Road.  Monroe wrote plainly and clearly, that the “National Government begins where the State governments terminate . . .” Within those words lies the essential nature of the 10th Amendment – the notion that states have primary authority which defines the boundaries of the federal government – not the other way around.  Beyond that, Monroe stressed that the “real sovereignty is in the people alone.”  According to Monroe, after the Revolution, sovereignty “passed directly to the people of each Colony and not to the people of all the Colonies . . . from the Crown it passed directly to the people.”  Again, with those words, Monroe succinctly states the essentials of limited government, i.e. that government is not the creator of rights but instead was granted certain powers, and that power was bestowed on the people of the colonies not a country as a whole.

That was the true essence of our state-centric, limited government, and it was the true essence of the experiment in Liberty known as the United States.

The tide of history, however, is that government power centralizes - always and everywhere. Dispersed power is inefficient and the ambition of those in office to rule is insatiable.  The courts are not immune to that process. Long ago, the federal courts started invalidating state laws on federal grounds in keeping with that dynamic. Our 5th Amendment, at a very basic level, rests on a powerful principle: Equality under the law.  Under that principle, different is not equal. When you combine that principle with centralizing power and federal supremacy over state laws, there really is no stopping point for the invalidation of states' laws that are not the same or  laws that are "unequal."  Viewed in that context, the DOMA ruling cannot be a surprise.

While any one court decision along the way may arouse greater ire than another, for those keeping watch over the American experiment, there can be little doubt that our system of government is no longer what our Founders wanted.

~ ~

Justice Anthony Kennedy’s opinion will lead to the turning over the prohibition same sex marriages.  Scalia is right when he writes that the justifications the majority used are "rootless and shifting."  I have tried to straighten them out.

Step by step, here is how they will lead to the overturning of traditional marriage laws:

Step # 1. The key to Kennedy’s opinion is his reference to Equal Protection:

Kennedy wrote: “The liberty protected by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause contains within it the prohibition against denying to any person the equal protection of the laws.”

Equal protection under the 5th Amendment (and the 14th) essentially means that all people must be treated the “same.”

 Step #2. Kennedy declared DOMA causes a lack of uniformity in state law.

Kennedy writes that 1) “DOMA rejects the long-established precept that the incidents, benefits, and obligations of marriage are uniform for all married couples within each State, though they may vary, subject to constitutional guarantees, from one State to the next,” and 2)  “DOMA’s principal effect is to identify a subset of state-sanctioned marriages and make them unequal.”

With that, Kennedy opens the door to some day say  that a state's denial of same-sex marriage violates a Constitutional guarantee.

 Step #3.  Kennedy declared DOMA  creates inequality in federal law.

Kennedy then states that “DOMA writes inequality into the entire United States Code.”[1]

 Step #4. Based on 2 and 3, Kennedy is forced to conclude that:  “DOMA is unconstitutional as a deprivation of the liberty of the person protected by the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution.”

By eliminating DOMA under the theory that it creates unequal rights, the Kennedy decision NECESSARILY creates step #5.

 Step 5:  This decision - by definition  - creates inequality at the federal level.  The federal government  will provide same-sex marriage benefits but those rights/benefits will be denied/won't be available in those states that ban same-sex marriage.  Therefore, the next logical conclusion is that states cannot deny same-sex marriage because they will be denying those couples equal federal benefits.  AT THAT POINT, the 5th Amendment ( i.e. federal law) overruns all state laws on the subject.

The best part of Scalia's dissent, in my view, is Scalia pointing out those unequal federal benefits and how the language of the Kennedy opinion will be part of that future opinion overturning bans on same-sex marriage in the states.

In short, the Kennedy majority will overturn all laws prohibiting same-sex marriages.  It is just a matter of time.  I predict it will occur in 2015.


[1] Under DOMA, same-sex married couples have their lives burdened, by reason of government decree, in visible and public ways. By its great reach, DOMA touches many aspects of married and family life, from the mundane to the profound. It prevents same-sex married couples from obtaining government healthcare benefits they would otherwise receive. See 5 U. S. C. §§8901(5), 8905. It deprives them of the Bankruptcy Code’s special protec- tions for domestic-support obligations. See 11 U. S. C. §§101(14A), 507(a)(1)(A), 523(a)(5), 523(a)(15). It forces them to follow a complicated procedure to file their state and federal taxes jointly. Technical Bulletin TB–55, 2010 Vt. Tax LEXIS 6 (Oct. 7, 2010); Brief for Federalism Scholars as Amici Curiae 34. It prohibits them from being buried together in veterans’ cemeteries. National Ceme- tery Administration Directive 3210/1, p. 37 (June 4, 2008).  For certain married couples, DOMA’s unequal effects are even more serious. The federal penal code makes it a crime to “assaul[t], kidna[p], or murde[r] . . . a member of the immediate family” of “a United States official, a United States judge, [or] a Federal law enforcement officer,” 18 U. S. C. §115(a)(1)(A), with the intent to influence or retaliate against that official, §115(a)(1). Although a “spouse” qualifies as a member of the officer’s “immediate 24 UNITED STATES v. WINDSOR Opinion of the Court family,” §115(c)(2), DOMA makes this protection inappli- cable to same-sex spouses. DOMA also brings financial harm to children of same- sex couples. It raises the cost of health care for families by taxing health benefits provided by employers to their workers’ same-sex spouses. See 26 U. S. C. §106; Treas. Reg. §1.106–1, 26 CFR §1.106–1 (2012); IRS Private Letter Ruling 9850011 (Sept. 10, 1998). And it denies or reduces benefits allowed to families upon the loss of a spouse and parent, benefits that are an integral part of family security. See Social Security Administration, Social Security Survivors Benefits 5 (2012) (benefits available to a surviving spouse caring for the couple’s child), online at

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