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Supreme Court Justices Question Defense Of Marriage Act

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The Supreme Court wrapped up arguments Wednesday afternoon on the Defense of Marriage Act, and supporters of the overturn say they're hopeful the outcome will be in their favor.

The 1996 Defense Of Marriage Act defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman and prevents legally married same-sex couples from receiving the same benefits as heterosexual ones.

On Wednesday, the four liberal justices and swing vote Anthony Kennedy appeared to question whether the act is constitutional.

"You're saying, 'No, state said two kinds of marriage; the full marriage, and then this sort of skim milk marriage,'" said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

That issue of equal protection came up throughout the oral arguments. But for Justice Kennedy, the problem seemed to be that the federal government is interfering with what has always been a state institution.

"You are at real risk of running in conflict with what has always been thought to be the essence of the state police power," Kennedy said.

But Paul Clement, the lawyer defending DOMA, said that the law was only meant to create uniformity and denied that it interfered with states' rights.

"No state loses any benefits by recognizing same-sex marriage," Clement said. "Things stay the same. What they don't do is, they don't sort of open up an additional class of beneficiaries under their state law that get additional federal benefits."

Part of the arguments focused on whether the court should actually be hearing this case in the first place, since the Obama administration has stopped defending the Defense of Marriage Act.

The administration, though, is still enforcing it, a point that annoyed conservative justices.

"I'm wondering if we're living in this new world where the Attorney General can simply decide, 'Yeah, it's unconstitutional, but it's not so unconstitutional that I'm not willing to enforce it,'" said Justice Antonin Scalia.

The challenge was brought on by Edith "Edie" Windsor, a New York woman forced to pay more than $360,000 in federal taxes on property left to her when her wife died.

Windsor said a straight married person would not have had to pay those taxes.

Lower federal courts have struck down the measure.

Windsor walked out of court Wednesday to thunderous applause and cheers from supporters.

"Today is like a spectacular event for me. I mean, it's a lifetime kind of event. And I know that the spirit of my late spouse, Thea Spyre, is right here watching and listening and would be very proud and happy of where we've come to," Windsor said.

Commuters who spoke with NY1 in Lower Manhattan this morning were mostly supportive of Windsor's fight, which has been elevated to the national stage.

"It's not fair. I mean why should gay people be treated any differently?" said one New Yorker.

"In that case yes. She should get recognized and she should be getting those benefits, because they lived together. But don't call it a marriage please," said another New Yorker.

Same-sex marriage is currently legal in nine states, including New York, as well as the District of Columbia.

The Supreme Court is not expected to issue any rulings until the summer.

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