Yesterday the Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law defining marriage as only between man and woman, for violating the Constitutional right to equal protection under the law. Plaintiff Edith Windsor, pictured, will not have to pay the more than $300,000 in taxes on her late wife's estate for which she would have been liable under the law.
This decision affects all federal laws that use the words "marriage" or "spouse," including the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act (which I addressed in an article for Minnesota Lawyer in April). For the philistines in the crowd lacking a subscription to this esteemed regional legal journal, I will briefly summarize the changes.
The FDCPA allows debt collectors to discuss a person's debts with their spouses without first getting consent from the debtor themselves. Marriages are ostensibly open and honest relationships, and this allowance reflects that ideal.
In the past, a debt collector who discussed a debt with a person's gay spouse would be liable for violating the FDCPA-- after all, DoMA prevented the spouse from actually being considered a "spouse," meaning the debt collector was, technically speaking, sharing debt information with a legal stranger. Overturning DoMA now closes that loophole.
If nothing else, overturning DoMA simplifies thousands of federal statutes by eliminating little quirks like this. Congress estimates that it will take about a year to adjust the federal code.
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