Supreme Court Appears Skeptical of Federal Marriage Law - KTVN Channel 2 - Reno Tahoe Sparks News, Weather, Video

Supreme Court Appears Skeptical of Federal Marriage Law

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The Supreme Court is indicating it could strike down the federal law that prevents legally married gay couples from receiving a range of federal benefits for married people.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, often the decisive vote in close cases, joined the four more liberal justices in raising questions about the provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that is being challenged at the Supreme Court.

Kennedy said the law appears to intrude on the power of states that have chosen to recognize same-sex marriages. Other justices said the law creates what Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called two classes of marriage, full marriage and "skim-milk marriage."

The law affects a range of benefits available to married couples, including tax breaks, survivor benefits and health insurance for spouses of federal employees.

It also is possible the court could dismiss the case for procedural reasons, though that prospect seemed less likely than it did in Tuesday's argument over gay marriage in California.

Meanwhile, the challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act that's been heard today before the Supreme Court involves an 83-year-old New York woman. She sued to fight a federal estate tax bill of $363,000 after her partner of 44 years died in 2009.

Edith Windsor had married Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007 after doctors told them that Spyer wouldn't live much longer. Spyer had suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years. She left everything she had to Windsor.

There is no dispute that if Windsor had been married to a man, her estate tax bill would have been zero.

A federal appeals court in New York agreed with a district judge that the Defense of Marriage Act had deprived Windsor of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the law, because she had to pay a tax that she wouldn't have had to pay if she'd been married to a man instead of a woman.

This case, like the one that was heard yesterday involving California's ban on same-sex marriage, could end without a definitive ruling from the high court. One issue is whether the House Republican leadership can defend the law in court after the administration decided not to.

If the Supreme Court finds that it doesn't have the authority to hear the case, Windsor probably would still get her refund because she won in the lower courts. But there would be no definitive decision about the Defense of Marriage Act from the Supreme Court, and it would remain on the books. (AP)

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