Yesterday, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker in San Francisco ruled that California’s Proposition 8 violates the US Constitution. While there were a lot of cheers and boos after the ruling, you and I both know this means practically nothing. No matter which side Walker came down on, an appeal was a sure thing.
I haven’t yet read the opinion but I will (it’s 136 pages long – you can read it here) but I do know the final answer. The big question it addressed was whether California’s ban on same-sex marriage violates same sex couples’ rights to equal protection and due process under the US Constitution. Judge Walker says yes.
Same-sex couples currently have the right to be legally married in five states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Vermont, Iowa, New Hampshire) and in DC. Civil unions are allowed in my neighboring state of New Jersey. While couples in those states may share some benefits of being married with their partners, they are not afforded certain benefits tied to federal law. Chief among them: deductions and exemptions allowed under the Tax Code.
My feeling on this has always been that the most significant challenge to the ban on same sex marriage would come in Tax Court. Even if Judge Walker’s ruling went untouched (trust me, it won’t), the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) significantly limits the rights of same sex couples on the federal level. It matters the most in the realm of taxation. I still think that’s where any substantial ruling about the rights of same sex couples will be manifested: not in a statewide vote, not in parades and demonstrations but rather in the mere tick of a box on a tax return.