The U.S. Supreme Court held today that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, saying DOMA's "unusual deviation from the tradition of recognizing and accepting state definitions of marriage operates to deprive same-sex couples of the benefits and responsibilities that come with federal recognition of their marriages." (page 2) The Obama Administration had declined to enforce or defend the constitutionality of DOMA, but nevertheless DOMA prohibited federal recognition of same-sex marriages that are lawfully entered in a U.S. state or another country, and blocked U.S. immigration benefits for same-sex spouses. Twelve U.S. states and many other countries provide for lawful same-sex marriages. The case decided by the U.S. Supreme Court, U.S. v. Windsor, involved a marriage under Canadian law. U.S. immigration law allows immigration benefits for spouses, so that married people who are living and working in the United States and who become permanent residents of the United States may continue to live with their lawful spouse. U.S. immigration law generally looks to the law of the jurisdiction in which the marriage was entered and if the marriage is lawful in that country or U.S. state, the spouse is eligible for U.S. immigration benefits together with their spouse who is approved for immigration status. DOMA had imposed a blanket prohibition on recognition of same-sex marriages. Striking DOMA as unconstitutional also removes the contentious issue of immigration benefits for same-sex spouses from the debate on comprehensive immigration reform.
Vermont was one of the first states to recognize same-sex marriage rights, and the first state to enact a same-sex marriage law without being forced by a court order. The law was passed by the Vermont State Legislature in April 2009 during our law partner Shap Smith's first term as Speaker of the Vermont House of Representatives, a position he still holds, and required the Vermont Legislature, led by Speaker Shap Smith and then-President Pro Tem of the Vermont Senate, now Governor Peter Shumlin, to override a veto by then-serving Governor Douglas. It will be gratifying for all Vermont marriages to be recognized on a federal level. This development has far-reaching implications in our legal practice for immigration, employment and benefits, estate planning, health care and a variety of other client matters.