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Opinions mixed on DOMA ruling

In a landmark ruling on Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down key provisions of the Defense of Marriage Act that barred same-sex couples from receiving the same federal benefits as heterosexual married couples.

The court voted 5-4 in favor of declaring the act “unconstitutional as a deprivation of the equal liberty of persons that is protected by the Fifth Amendment.”

Justices Anthony Kennedy, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor and Elena Kagan voted to strike down DOMA while Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas dissented.

As stated in the majority opinion, written by Kennedy, “The Constitution’s guarantee of equality ‘must at the very least mean that a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group cannot’ justify disparate treatment of that group” and “DOMA cannot survive under these principles.”

The issue was first challenged by Edith Windsor following the death of her spouse Thea Speyer, whom Windsor married in Ontario, Canada, in 2007, and whose marriage was recognized by the state of New York.

According to records, Speyer left her entire estate to Windsor and when Windsor sought federal estate tax exemption status for surviving spouses, she was denied the claim because of Section 3 of DOMA, which limited the definition of the terms “marriage” and “spouse” to mean heterosexual couples only.

Because of the denial, Windsor had to pay $363,053 in estate taxes and when she sought a refund from the Internal Revenue Service, it was denied as well.

The prevailing opinion basically stated that if a marriage is recognized by a state, the federal government cannot deny federal benefits in that case.

According to the opinion, “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.”

Locally, the court’s decision was met with mixed emotions.

Russellville resident Chesley Smith said she agreed with the court’s decision to declare DOMA unconstitutional.

“I’m glad homosexual couples will now be able to get benefits,” Smith said.

“I have several friends who are gay and plan to be married in the future, but they were scared they wouldn’t be able to get health insurance or any benefits.

“People cant choose who they fall in love with. Gay couples deserve benefits just as much as non-same sex couples. I was brought up believing that we treat everyone equally and not to discriminate against anyone and I’m proud to say I stand behind gay marriage and equal benefits.”

Russellville graduate Mike Hovater, who now lives in Huntsville, said he felt the decision was an important step toward equality.

“I think today was a watershed moment in history for the advancement of civil rights and liberties,” Hovater said.

“Even though neither law has any impact on Alabama residents, I am excited at what this means for the future for so many Americans who ‘having been created equal’ have not been treated as equal.”

But others in the community see the issue differently than just a simple debate of equality.

Phil Campbell resident Ashley Motes said she believes this is yet another step in the wrong direction for America.

“I think it is a disgrace that as Americans we have elected officials into office that would make decisions like this,” Motes said.

“The reason so many things today are thought to be unconstitutional is because when the constitution was founded, it was founded on the Bible and God’s word. But America doesn’t want to live by God’s word anymore.

“In the Bible there is a true account of God destroying a whole city because of homosexuality, and people wonder why our great nation is slowly becoming less and less great today.”

State conservative leaders expressed their displeasure with the court’s ruling because, even though Alabama is not directly affected since gay marriage is not allowed in the state, officials are concerned that Alabama taxpayers will now be responsible for extending federal benefits to homosexual couples in the 12 states that do allow gay marriage.

“I am disappointed to learn that SCOTUS has struck down DOMA and will now require that federal benefits be extended to homosexual couples,” Alabama Republican Party Chairman Bill Armistead said.

“This is an affront to the Christian principles that this nation was founded on. The federal government is hijacking marriage, a uniquely religious institution, and they must be stopped.

“Whether by a constitutional amendment or other means, us taxpayers should not be forced by their government to reward those who choose to engage in activity that had been banned in 35 states.

“This is a nation founded on Christian values and the Bible is very clear on marriage – one man and one woman. Alabama’s state law banning gay marriage will prevent these benefits from being extended in Alabama, but our tax dollars will still go to support a lifestyle that we fundamentally disagree with.”

But Joshua Upchurch, of Russellville, said he doesn’t believe the issue should be based on religious perspectives.

“This is a simple issue of a law being completely unconstitutional based on the Equal Protection Clause,” Upchurch said.

“No matter what your religious preferences may be, everyone in this country is granted certain equalities and liberties and to deny those equalities to any group is wrong.”

In a separate ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld a lower court’s ruling that the state of California’s Proposition 8 banning gay marriage in the state was unconstitutional.

However, that same opinion also allowed gay marriage bans to stand in Alabama and 33 other states.