Defense of Marriage Act under scrutiny by Supreme Court


Photo courtesy of CNN

Protestors and supporters stand outside the Supreme Court anticipating the arguments on same-sex marriage.

Thaddeus Mast

On Wednesday morning, the Defense of Marriage Act was argued in the Supreme Court. This is an historic step for same-sex couples, as the act legally defines marriage as between a man and a woman in more than 1,000 federal laws.

The case, United States v. Windsor, was brought about when Edie Windsor, an 83-year-old woman, was denied a refund of $363,000 in federal estate taxes she paid following the death of her partner Thea Spyer in 2009. She would have been eligible for an estate tax exemption if Spyer had been a man and argued that Defense of Marriage Act’s Section 3 violates her equal protection under the Fifth Amendment.

In 2011, the Obama administration announced that the Department of Justice would no longer defend Defense of Marriage Act. The House Republicans are defending the law instead. Wednesday’s discussion was more focused on odd legal issues and how the case ended up at the Supreme Court. Tuesday’s discussion of Proposition 8 was focused more on the legality and disputes of gay marriage.

Chuck Hurley, vice president of Family Leader, supports Defense of Marriage Act. “The federal [Defense of Marriage Act] was a good law,” Hurley said. “It respected federalism and was duly passed by representatives of the people, which is where laws are supposed to come from, not from courts.”

Donna Red Wing, executive director of One Iowa, opposes the Defense of Marriage Act. “I think it is unconstitutional,” Red Wing said. “I think it has created a second-class citizenship, a different kind of marriage for different people. I think the Supreme Court needs to find it unconstitutional.”

The Family Leader has been active in the Iowa legislature and judicial branches. “Our most significant amount of time has been spent on urging the legislature to vote for a resolution allowing Iowans to vote on a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between a man and woman,” Hurley said. “We’ve also been active with judicial retention elections.”

One Iowa, formed in 2005, is also engaged in the legislature. “We formed to protect marriage and to work toward marriage in Iowa. We are a watchdog, we look when bills are introduced. If those bills are in any way an affront to marriage equality, we work very hard to make sure that all of our membership knows about it. We work to defend marriage wherever that is, whether that be in communities or the legislature,” Red Wing said.

Hurley says that his concern of gay marriage is for children. “We care about kids. You can’t expect them to sort fact from fiction when old people are telling them fiction. And they’re supposed to look up to and even be submissive to older people. That’s the real crisis,” Hurley said. “Our considered opinion is that kids do best with a mom and a dad. So we would advocate, on a personal level, to people not to procreate outside of one man and one woman, married for life.”

Red Wing believes just the opposite, that children raised in same-sex households are just as well off as those that are not. “Gay and lesbian couples have had children, will have children, do have children, and when the experts, the American Pediatric Association, comes out and says a multiyear study has done extraordinary research, and they come out in favor of same-gender marriage.”

If the Defense of Marriage Act is repealed, Hurley said the Family Leader will continue supporting traditional families. “We would continue to try to coach parents to tell their kids what’s true and best. We would continue to love homosexuals. We’ve raised several thousand dollars to help homosexuals. I’ve hired several homosexuals. This is not about hatred of a person or even of a person who is caught up in an orientation. This is love for children as expressed for what is true and best for them,” Hurley said.

Red Wing says that a repeal of Defense of Marriage Act would have immediate benefits. “It would immediately affect those legally married couples. Here in Iowa, there are more than 6,000 couple that have been married, and across the nation more than 100,000. They would receive federal recognition. There would be tax incentives and benefits, things like Social Security and veterans benefits.”

Hurley said that his life would change drastically if Defense of Marriage Act would be overturned. “My wife and I are in our 50s; we know what we believe, and so we aren’t the issue, but it’s what are we telling our young people. And, obviously, its 5,900 years of human history is clear on what marriage is in regard to the issue of same-sex relationships. In my view it would be like the Supreme Court saying from now on, the sun comes up in the west. They don’t have the authority or jurisdiction over marriage. Marriage predates governments. We receive marriage and we respect marriage, but we don’t define it.”

Red Wing does not believe that a repealed Defense of Marriage Act would change anything for heterosexual couples. “Next year we will be celebrating four years of marriage equality. We didn’t go to Hell in a hand basket, the sky didn’t fall. Six thousand couples got married; loving, committed, gay and lesbian couples got married. That’s what happens, and I think Americans are starting to understand that.”

If you wish to get involved in either group, visit them at and

The court case will not be decided until late June.