Justice Kennedy Contra DOMA: Marriage Belongs To The States

By history and tradition the definition and regulation of marriage has been treated as being within the authority and realm of the separate States. Congress has enacted discrete statutes to regulate the meaning of marriage in order to further federal policy, but DOMA, with a directive applicable to over 1,000 federal statutes and the whole realm of federal regulations, has a far greater reach. Its operation is also directed to a class of persons that the laws of New York, and of 11 other States, have sought to protect. Assessing the validity of that intervention requires discussing the historical and traditional extent of state power and authority over marriage.

Subject to certain constitutional guarantees, see, e.g., Loving v. Virginia, 388 U. S. 1, “regulation of domestic relations” is “an area that has long been regarded as a virtually exclusive province of the States,” Sosna v. Iowa, 419 U. S. 393, 404. The significance of state responsibilities for the definition and regulation of marriage dates to the Nation’s beginning; for “when the Constitution was adopted the common understanding was that the domestic relations of husband and wife and parent and child were matters reserved to the States,” Ohio ex rel. Popovici v. Agler, 280 U. S. 379, 383–384. Marriage laws may vary from State to State, but they are consistent within each State.

United States v Windsor (2013), 2–3.

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    • Can’t take credit. It goes to Rush Limbaugh, who pointed out the discrepancy between Kennedy’s reasoning in the DOMA case with his reasoning in Obergefell.

  1. “Subject to certain Constitutional guarantees” and he cites Loving. So the Constitution does provide a floor for marriage that the states cannot go below. For example, they can’t forbid interracial marriage.

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