United States v. Edith Windsor
In October, the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act violates the 14th Amendment to the U.S. constitution because it unfairly denies legally joined same-sex couples rights and benefits afforded to legal opposite-sex unions. The law also prohibits federal employees from enrolling same-sex spouses and domestic partners in their employer-sponsored health and retirement benefit plans.
The challenge to the law was brought to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in 2010 by Edith Windsor, who was served with a $363,000 tax bill for the property she inherited after her partner died in 2009. Under DOMA, she would have been exempt from the tax had she been in a heterosexual marriage.
Significantly, the 2nd Circuit's majority opinion applied for the first time a substantially greater level of constitutional protection for legally recognized gay couples that requires defenders of a presumably discriminatory law to provide evidence that it serves an important government interest — instead of merely a rational public policy basis — as justification for the law's discriminatory effects.
Dennis Hollingsworth et al. v. Kristin M. Perry et al.
Shortly after a 2008 ruling by the Supreme Court of the State of California declaring that same-sex couples had a fundamental right to obtain the same state marriage licenses available to opposite-sex couples, voters approved the Proposition 8 ballot initiative amending the California Constitution to define marriage as the union of one man and one woman, thus overriding the court's decision.
Months later, two same-sex couples — including Kristin Perry — sued California in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California over the amendment after being denied state marriage licenses. However, no officers of the state's government offered to defend the amendment's constitutional merits. Dennis Hollingsworth and several other original sponsors of Proposition 8 volunteered and later were certified to defend the statute on behalf of California voters.
In February, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a lower court's ruling that the Proposition 8 statute violated the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution by stripping same-sex couples of their court-mandated right to enter into legal marriages.