Some conservative commentators have decried the Windsor case as the new Roe v. Wade. As to legal doctrine, however, the case looks more like a reversal of Harris v. McRae, the Supreme Court decision (barely) upholding the constitutionality of the Hyde Amendment. Further, the case looks like a vindication of the concurring federalist arguments once offered by Justices Catron and Campbell in Dred Scott.
Both Harris and Windsor involved a constitutional challenge, under the Fifth Amendment, to a federal law that affected a due-process right the Court had recently created: the right to abortion, created in Roe v. Wade, and the right to consensual acts of “intimacy,” created in Lawrence v. Texas. Both of those cases were the alleged progeny of the prior due-process cases supporting certain unenumerated, non-economic rights: from Meyer v. Nebraska to Pierce v. Society of Sisters to Griswold v. Connecticut.
In both cases, the federal law involved not criminal prohibition but the distribution of federal benefits in a selective manner that arguably disfavored the exercise of these rights. Moreover, in both cases, the laws were proposed by Republicans, many of whom denied there was any such “right,” for such rights were actually wrongs. In both cases, then, there was some moral disapprobation involved (though probably far more in the case of the Hyde Amendment, for inflammatory words like “murder” were used). In both cases, conversely, the laws were signed by Democratic presidents who affirmed the existence of the alleged constitutional rights, but who believed the federal government did not need to subsidize these rights equally with alternatives.