Edie Windsor Case Challenges DOMA in Supreme Court

United States v. Windsor concerns the 1996 defense of marriage act.
11:30 | 03/27/13

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Transcript for Edie Windsor Case Challenges DOMA in Supreme Court
This is the special report. From ABC news now. I'm Dan -- for New York -- ABC news now special report a new day and a new set of arguments that the Supreme Court about the future of gay marriage in America. On the docket this morning the defense of marriage act in 1996 federal law. But defines marriage as being between one man and one woman and as part of that legislation same sex married couples cannot qualify for federal benefits -- File their federal taxes together regardless of their home states laws. It is a more complex case facing the justices to day so here -- through the united. States vs Windsor for joined by ABC news Nightline anchor Terry Moran Terry thanks -- with us. And before we get into the weeds too much on this case what stood out from -- to you from today in the courtroom we -- some of the justices like to mix it up and it with the lawyers. Absolutely that there's no question then that this is. I'm very different case against yes it was about the state of California saying -- There's no such thing as gay marriage in California and the question is their constitutional right to -- there -- perhaps -- today -- very different cases you point out. The federal law defining for federal law purposes marriage as the union of one man one woman. They're the best way to get a handle on it is to tell the story lady is right -- behind the microphones there. Edie -- 83 years old. A partner. With her or her lifetime lover -- the aspire they got married in early 2000 New York State recognize that marriage. Her partner died. -- -- -- -- -- And if she was it is straight marriage she would have paid a dime of taxes on that a state that's the way the law works but because the federal government had this law they said. You weren't married. We don't recognize that person is any relation to -- all. -- -- -- 363000. Dollars so that's the case that came before the court is a law that works that way. -- a couple that New York State or one of the other states recognizes as legally married. Is that fair is that constitutional that was what the justices were gone after today. And the first question the court had to face was even should they decide the case at all correct. That's right -- the first thing in American courts have to do is say is their real case here. Some other countries they use courts to issue with the call advisory opinions grand declarations about things like gay marriage or abortion or whatever. American courts do not do that the -- Anderson says there must be a case or controversy they decide particular. Cases individuals who have been specifically affected by a law so they can see how that laws crystallized -- it's really. Acting in the real world. No question eighty to eighty wins -- been affected by this law. But the weird thing about this case is President Obama. Has come out and said. This law is unconstitutional. But I wanna continue to enforce it in order to force the Supreme Court to strike it down they got the sense that that game. At one point chief Justice Roberts saying very sharply. The president he said. Should have the courage of his convictions. Rather than come running to us. To have us to tell him what to do so there's a little bit of that going on and they are very reluctant to be. A body that simply makes pronouncements on general issues they want to make sure that the case is properly presented it to little technical but very important. Well and the title of the case as you pointed out as United States vs winds are both the government as you point out he wins at the 83 year old new Yorker. Both not recognizing. Both obviously fighting for the recognition of their merits -- who was arguing with -- when there. That is a great question as you point out -- United States against Windsor. But in there -- United States and -- are both on the same side and and that's a very weird thing in American -- so. A group of house Republicans. Who like the defense of marriage act. They are in the court represented by very able lawyer saying war the real defendants here and -- -- looked at them and they said. -- when you're just a bunch of house Republicans what why should you be the defendants and what. What will come in future years about a senate Democrats coming in and say no. We think the law should be enforced like this sort of like that. They're very reluctant. Around these issues of what the president is doing with this law and what house Republicans are doing with this law and fact at one point. The court. Appointed a special lawyer. To sort some of -- out and -- said. You shouldn't take this case wait for real case in other words wait for say a state employee who's suing the state government. In the state government being forced by the defense of marriage act. To operate in a certain way where you have that real case or controversy. So before you even -- the merits of gay marriage. We have all these complicated issues and there. So we had Chief Justice John. Robertson is making a comment about President Obama but also when the merits word disgust. Justice Kennedy also had some pretty strong sentiments of his own. He did you know justice Anthony Kennedy is the likely swing vote in this case and in many other cases. On the issue of gay rights he was ahead of this time no question about it he was the deciding vote. In a case. That declared. Any state law that criminalize. Sexual relations between. Same sex people. -- put all those laws unconstitutional Kennedy did that and then when the state of Colorado passed the law saying. We will never recognize. Homosexuality. As a protected class when it comes to hiring firing benefits. Kennedy was the vote that struck out one down and in this case it's clear that he's very disturbed. Once they got to the merits by congress. Saying to all the states what ever you do. If you recognize same sex marriage the United States government never will. And at one point justice Ginsburg said well that's very strange that you can be married in a state. But for federal purposes you can't have the tax benefits the property benefits the hospital visitation benefits the family leave benefits. She said it's like skim milk. Which got a bit of a laugh and Kennedy was was clearly on -- side as well once they got to -- the real case and so should the court decide. To rule on the merits what was at the core of the argument made today by by Paul Clement who has represented the group supporting the defense of marriage act well -- He made the argument that. The reason congress passed this law was so that there would be uniformity. In the federal treatment of marriage. He raised the example -- the Justice Alito. Of three soldiers in same sex relationships all wounded on the battlefield one is married once in a civil union. -- in a state where neither civil unions or marriages are available to married one. The partner gets husband gets to visit the married soldier the civil union one under federal law. Wouldn't and the third one wouldn't as well so what. The lawyer for the house Republicans who like -- all we were trying to do was have uniformity. -- whether you're an Oklahoma or New York or Massachusetts. Whatever they say about marriage for federal tax law purposes for federal benefits purposes. Will define marriage this way justice Kagan called his bluff. And and it was a very sharp moment maybe the sharpest moment there where she said that's not why congress passed this law and she read verbatim. From the house report from 1996. Which said with rather naked and him. Against gay people. The reason -- -- its laws because we morally disapprove of homosexual couples. That is what they said and that was to seventeen years ago no congress would pass a law in which they tests that statement today just how fast things have changed. And that puts the law at risk because then you're an equal protection country can congress really pass a law where they single out. Not for as the lawyer and there was trying to -- uniformity of federal treatment but because we don't like this group of people. That's that's really the problem with the law for justice Kagan some of the other liberals and perhaps for Justice Kennedy. And so for the other side for the solicitor general David for really -- -- -- -- really. And Roberta Kaplan arguing for miss Windsor what did they -- -- -- they countered with -- with this notion that. The federal government shouldn't hand out marriage licenses based on the federal government preferences of who should be married. And the federal government should recognize what the states to let the states go I -- have this debate that the states are having. Recognize that Edie Windsor was legally married according to New York State law. And she shouldn't have had to pay the government 363000. Dollars in the state taxes. When her spouse died. And I know that you did an amazing piece of profiling Edie Windsor what was her reaction as this was going on this morning. You know I looked over there it. He is a remarkable. Person anyone -- -- matters choose one of the first computer software programmers in the United States back in the 1950s she's got a Ph.D. in math. She's a very remarkable person. And quite -- and operating through -- she was in their following a lockout really thick. At times you can imagine on some of the legal questions. She had I've never seen this in the court a special pair of headphones. Plugged into the courts sound system because -- big booming courtroom can be hard to hear and sometimes. And she was certainly following along very close eye could see when she was -- could see when she was this disapproving of of some of what was happening. There's no question that that her case and therefore. Her lifelong partnership with the aspire are really before the court in very human ways through all that legal technicality. Yesterday they seem to be a tremendous amount of emotion inside the courtroom. She was at the same type. I'm sorry -- -- This is a lot more emotion than there was in the quarterback -- much more technical today. -- -- -- -- ED review Windsor and much more technical inside the courtroom today more narrowly focused on specific issues rather than those big issues that you could feel. At work. In the justices yesterday love the ancient. Institution of marriage that children of same sex couples the power of the court to redefine these things. All right ABC's Terry Moran invaluable. Insight Terry thank you so much. For them back. Of course we'll have a complete report on abcnews.com. Asked the Supreme Court wraps up this second day of hearings regarding same sex marriage -- decision expected. Some time engine.

This transcript has been automatically generated and may not be 100% accurate.

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