For nearly two hours, the justices debated the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, a 1996 law that says for federal purposes, marriage is defined as only between one man and one woman.
A ruling is expected within three months.
The arguments concluded two days of presentations before the high court on one of the most prevalent social issues of this era — the right of gay and lesbian couples to wed and receive the full benefits of law provided to heterosexual couples.
Under DOMA, Social Security, pension and bankruptcy benefits, along with family medical leave protections and other provisions, do not apply to gay and lesbian couples legally married in states that recognize such unions.
This case argued Wednesday involved , who was forced to assume an estate tax bill much larger than heterosexual married couples would have to pay. Because her decades-long partner was a woman, the federal government did not recognize their same-sex marriage in legal terms, even though their home state of New York did.
The court appeared divided along ideological lines during the arguments about whether DOMA is discriminatory and steps on state marriage laws for gays and lesbians.
If legally married homosexuals were being denied more than 1,100 federal benefits, “what kind of marriage is that?” asked Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who said the discriminatory effect was “pervasive.”
The potential swing vote, Justice Anthony Kennedy, said DOMA presents a “real risk of running into traditional state police power to regulate marriage.”
However, when Windsor’s lawyer argued in court there was a “sea change” afoot today in support of same-sex marriage that leaves DOMA outdated, Chief Justice John Roberts said that is because of “the political effectiveness of those on your side” swaying public opinion.
Roberts and Justice Antonin Scalia suggested DOMA could still remain in place as a valid extension of congressional authority, as 41 states do not allow same-sex marriage.
After the arguments, Windsor, 83, told reporters outside the court she was excited and humbled to be there, adding: “I think it was great.”
Marriage, she said, is “a magic word, for anyone who doesn’t understand why we want it and why we need it.”
“We did win in the lower court,” Windsor added. “Today is like a spectacular event for me.”
Public interest remained high at the court, but not at the same level as Tuesday’s arguments in another case involving California’s voter-approved ban of same-sex marriage.
A smaller crowd gathered than the day before, with most of them opponents of DOMA. “I’m here today because I’m a social worker and I’ve seen a lot of people suffer over the years,” Mary Ann Piet told CNN. “And I’m concerned about not getting people their human rights, their dignity as people.”
Asked what she hoped to hear Wednesday, Piet said she wanted the justices to show that “they are going to think it through carefully” and determine that “we all deserve the same” to “fit with what the United States stands for.”
Conservative supporters of the law, known by its acronym of DOMA, contend it codifies a fundamental cornerstone of society, and changing the definition of marriage would have widespread negative impacts.
The federal statute presents tricky gateway or “standing” questions that threaten to stall any final consideration of its constitutionality.
Reprinted from CNN.