Education International
Education International

US: Landmark ruling victories

published 27 June 2013 updated 28 June 2013

The US Supreme Court’s recent decision on same-sex couple legal protections that dramatically advance equality and human rights has been welcomed by the Presidents of both of EI’s affiliates in the US: the National Education Association (NEA) and the American Federation of Teachers (AFT).

Two major rulings

All married same-sex couples are entitled to federal benefits, including same-sex couples who have won the right to wed in 12 states and the District of Columbia. The court declined to decide a case from California, which effectively allowed same-sex marriages there. The ruling does not extend marriage equality to any other state. Now there are 13 states that allow same sex marriage.

Van Roekel, president of the nation’s largest union, representing more than three million educators in the US, was commenting on the rulings by the US Supreme Court in United States v. Windsor, which struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional, and Hollingsworth v. Perry, which upheld a lower court ruling that struck down California’s ban on same-sex marriage.

A huge step forward “What we have witnessed today is a major milestone in American history—a monumental decision and a huge step forward for civil rights,” he said. “As an educator, I cannot help but be moved by the thought of all of the children and students we serve whose families will now be made whole. I am reminded of the struggle, and I think of how far we, as a society, have come to let love overcome hate and bigotry.

In responds to the US Court’s ruling, AFT President Randi Weingarten said: “Today, we took a giant leap forward in the march for equality and justice for all. The Supreme Court ruled definitively that DOMA violated the Equal Protection Clause in our Constitution and that loving married same-sex couples deserve the same rights and benefits as all other married couples.

The court's decision on Prop 8, which leaves intact a district judge's ruling invalidating that measure ensures that, at least for now, gay and lesbian couples have the freedom to marry in California.”


Windsor v. U.S. was an earlier case which challenged the 1996 DOMA, asking whether the federal government could deny federal marriage benefits to legally married same-sex couples.

Workers with same-sex spouses earn less money, pay higher taxes on their wages and benefits, and have available to them fewer valuable benefits than their counterparts with different-sex spouses.

As such, DOMA deprives these union members and other workers of the equal protection of the law.

Windsor v United States dealt directly with DOMA’s Section 3. The case dates back to November 2010, when the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on behalf of Edie Windsor, the 83-year-old widowed lesbian from New York who sued the government for the US$363,000 in estate taxes that she was forced to pay under DOMA following the death of her partner, Thea Spyer, in 2010. Windsor and Spyer were together for more than 40 years and wed in Canada in 2007. Because of DOMA, their marriage was not acknowledged by the federal government.

On 6 June 6 2012, US District Court Judge Barbara Jones sided with Windsor by ruling DOMA's Section 3 - which explicitly restricts marriage to different-sex couples - unconstitutional. On 18 October 18 2012, the US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld that lower ruling.

The Supreme Court reviewed the case on 27 March 27 2013 hearing arguments on two landmark cases involving marriage equality.

On 26 June 2013, the Supreme Court struck down Section 3 of DOMA, marking the first step in overturning the two-tiered system for marriage that DOMA created.

Our struggle continues

NEA and AFT and the labour unions have been engaged and dedicated to the equal and fair treatment of all workers. Protecting the rights of working men and women, including gay and lesbians, is an important part of their collective mission.

Accordingly, labour unions bargain and advocate for domestic partner benefits in union contracts, for prohibitions forbidding employers from firing lesbian and gay workers because of sexual orientation, and for programmes to help end discrimination in the workplace.

The momentous ruling in the Windsor case marks the first step in ending the days of DOMA, a law that must still be fully overturned.

We know that all married couples - including same-sex couples - should be treated as married by the federal government no matter where they live. Access to federal marital protections for married same-sex couples who have moved to states that discriminate against their marriages may take some work. 38 states still forbid gays and lesbians to marry.

“The fight for equality and social justice goes on, and because of what we do and who we serve, we will always be on the frontline of this battlefield”, said NEA President Van Roekel. EI proudly stands in solidarity with its US colleagues and US workers.

Additional links

EI Resolution on the Protection of the Rights of Lesbian and Gay Education Personnel

To read the NEA president’s comments on Supreme Court decisions on same-sex marriage, click here

Brief of American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations, Change to Win, and National Education Association as Amici Curiae supporting respondent Edith Schlain Windsor and Suggesting Appearance here

Brief of Amici Curiae the Californian Teachers Association and the National Education Association in support of respondents here

Labor Movement Stands Up for Full Equality for Gay and Lesbian Americans here

Freedom to marry