A federal appeals court ruled on Thursday that Section Three of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) unconstitutionally discriminates against married same-sex couples.
In striking down DOMA, the court held that government discrimination against lesbians and gay men now is assumed to be unconstitutional and that DOMA’s defenders could not offer any good reason for treating married same-sex couples differently from all other married couples. This is the first federal appeals court decision to decide that government discrimination against gay people gets a more exacting level of judicial review, called “heightened scrutiny.”
The law had been challenged by Edith “Edie” Windsor, who sued the federal government after being made to pay $363,000 in estate taxes on her late wife’s estate because the government did not recognize Edie’s marriage to her partner of over 40 years, Thea Spyer. Under the tax rules applied to heterosexual couples, spouses do not have to pay estate taxes.
In her lawsuit, Windsor argued that DOMA violates the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution because it requires the government to treat same-sex couples who are legally married as strangers. Windsor's lawsuit was filed by the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, the American Civil Liberties Union and the New York Civil Liberties Union.
“Today’s decision affirms that DOMA deprives same sex couples of equal protection under the law. This ruling is an important step in ensuring the rights of men and women are not dependent upon who they love and who they chose to spend their lives with. We have much more to do, but we are another step further on the road to a more perfect union for all Americans,” New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg said.
New York State Bar Association President and Brooklyn resident Seymour W. James Jr., reaffirmed the Association’s commitment and support of equal rights for same-sex couples. “The State Bar Association, a longtime advocate for the repeal of DOMA, has long supported equal rights for same-sex couples. We will continue to advocate against this discriminatory act and we will to urge the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down this law nationwide at its next available opportunity," he said.
Windsor has petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her case. The court has not yet decided whether to hear her case, or any of several other challenges to DOMA.