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Supreme Court Strikes Down DOMA June 26, 2013

In a landmark case, United States v. Windsor,, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act on the grounds that it is an unconstitutional deprivation of the equal liberty of persons protected by the Fifth Amendment.  The syllabus to the opinion states "DOMA’s principal effect is to identify and make unequal a subset of state-sanctioned marriages. It contrives to deprive some couples married under the laws of their State, but not others, of both rights and responsibilities, creating two contradictory marriage regimes within the same State. It also forces same-sex couples to live as married for the purpose of state law but unmarried for the purpose of federal law, thus diminishing the stability and predictability of basic personal relations the State has found it proper to acknowledge and protect."

Same sex couples married in a state that recognizes same sex marriages can now claim social security, certain pension benefits, and Federal estate and gift tax exemptions available to married couples.  This decision will undoubtedly increase the appeal of marrying under the laws of a state that recognizes same sex marriages, even if they do not ultimately live in that state.   Note that this landmark decision does not alter the rights of same sex couples under the laws of the state in which they reside including those applicable to marriage, divorce, adoption, and claims to property earned during the partnership.

Any validly married same sex couples should contact their attorneys regarding changes that may need to be made regarding their wills, trusts, and beneficiary designations for retirement plans to take full advantage of this development.

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