Like countless others, Ms. Windsor had been snared by the Defense of Marriage Act of 1996, which barred same-sex married couples from federal recognition as “spouses,” effectively excluding them from the many federal benefits available to married heterosexuals. (Those benefits numbered 1,138, according to a count by the Government Accountability Office, Congress’s fiscal watchdog agency.)
After living together for 40 years, Ms. Windsor and Thea Spyer, a psychologist, were legally married in Canada in 2007. Dr. Spyer died in 2009, and Ms. Windsor inherited her estate. But the Internal Revenue Service denied her the unlimited spousal exemption from federal estate taxes available to married heterosexuals, and she had to pay taxes of $363,053.
She sued, claiming that the law, by recognizing only marriages between a man and a woman, unconstitutionally singled out same-sex marriage partners for “differential treatment.”
Affirming two lower court rulings, the Supreme Court, in the United States v. Windsor, overturned the law in a 5-4 ruling. It cited the Fifth Amendment guarantee that no person shall be “deprived of life, liberty or property without due process of law.”
The Defense of Marriage Act had been adopted in Congress by wide margins and signed by President Bill Clinton under the pressures of an election year, at a time when gay marriage was illegal across the country and odious to millions of Americans.
By striking down the act’s definition of marriage as a union of a man and a woman, the Supreme Court invalidated the entire law and for the first time granted same-sex marriage partners the recognition and benefits accorded married heterosexuals.
But there was a catch. The decision did not say if there was a constitutional right to same-sex unions, and it left in place laws…