Family law is a broad category that continually changes and expands. From child custody to separation of assets, family law is a very involved and personal form of law in America. Therefore, the decisions and cases examined and discussed within the courts of family law often have a substantial impact on the citizens of the United States. One of the main aspects of family law is marriage and divorce, so below let’s take a look at two of the most influential cases in family law history.


Loving v. Virginia


The year was 1958, and the Civil Rights Movement was at its peak. Mildred Jeter and Richard Loving married in D.C. shortly before returning to their residence in Virginia. However, once the couple returned home, they were criminally tried in court resulting in Judge Leone M. Bazile ruling their interracial marriage a crime against Virginia state law. After deciding that “God created the races..” and “…the fact that he separated the races shows he did not intend for the races to mix..” the Judge presented the couple with a choice to either face one year in jail or live in exile of Virginia for 25 years.


The Lovings chose the latter and lived outside of Virginia for nearly seven years before they, along with the American Civil Liberties Union, challenged the constitutionality of the law in 1964. In a unanimous decision, the U.S. Supreme Court found that the Virginia law violated the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment, and that “the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual.”


U.S. v. Windsor – (Obergefell v. Hodges)


In 1996, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) was passed by Congress that enabled states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages licensed in other states and provided a definition of “marriage” and “spouse” that excluded same-sex couples.


For nearly 20 years, the Defense of Marriage Act remained intact and unchallenged until December 7th, 2012 when the U.S. Supreme Court agreed to hear a case from Edie Windsor against DOMA.


In Canada 2007, lesbian-couple Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer married after 40 years of sharing their lives together. But in 2009, after Thea Spyer passed away, the federal government used DOMA to refused the recognition of their marriage and taxed the inheritance from Thea to Edie Windsor thus forcing her to pay thousands of dollars in taxes, something that a (heterosexual) widowed spouse never does. On June 26th, 2013, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional and that the federal government cannot discriminate to determine federal benefits and protections.


Two years later, the Supreme Court also ruled that, under the 14th Amendment, states must recognize a marriage between two people of same-sex when licensed out-of-state, and all that states must license a marriage.