State actions that could affect the impact of the Court’s decision in United States v. Windsor include legislation restricting marriage to a union between a man and a woman. The relevant constitutional clause in the Fifth Amendment that relates to the case is equal protection. The Court’s decision could affect future cases as state laws change.
The 2013 decision in United States v. Windsor was concerned with the applicability of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment of the Constitution to marriage between people of the same gender. It stemmed from a situation of marriage and inheritance involving two women. As residents of New York state, where legal recognition was applied to marriages between people of the same gender, Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer had been legally married in 2008. The following year, Spyer died and left her estate to her wife. Under the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), restricting marriage to people of different genders, Windsor’s claim for the surviving spouse exemption from estate tax was rejected.
When Windsor sued the United States, the case made its way through the US district and circuit courts, where judges declared section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional. The case then was taken up by the Supreme Court. In the 2013 majority opinion, the unconstitutionality was upheld on the grounds of “deprivation of liberty of the person,” which is guaranteed by the Fifth Amendment. Specifically, it violated equal protection which was guaranteed under the amendment’s Due Process Clause. If marriage were restricted to people of opposite genders, it would constitute discrimination against those who were denied the right to marry.
Part of the decision hinged on changes in marital law that had been enacted by numerous states. For that reason, if individual states reversed their decisions and reaffirmed the exclusivity of opposite gender marriages, the federal government’s position would conflict with those of the states.