The court heard oral arguments in a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that prohibits same-sex couples from collecting certain federal benefits, even if they live in a state that recognizes same-sex marriage.
“The question is whether the federal government, under our federalism scheme, has the authority to regulate marriage,” Kennedy said.
The court’s liberal justices also appeared hostile to DOMA. Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the law creates a tier of second-class “skim milk marriage” for same-sex couples.
Paul Clement, a former solicitor general in the George W. Bush administration, defended DOMA on behalf of a group representing Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and other House Republicans.
Clement said DOMA was not intended to exclude same-sex couples, but rather to give the federal government a uniform definition of “marriage” for the purpose of federal programs, at a time when states were beginning to adopt differing definitions.
Wednesday’s arguments capped off two days of high-profile hearings at the court. The justices heard a broader marriage case on Tuesday that asks, in part, whether there is a constitutional right to same-sex marriage. They seemed reluctant to issue a broad ruling in that case.
Read more on the Supreme Court's Wednesday oral arguments here.
Read the complete transcript below: