NEW YORK -- Today, another federal judge has ruled that a critical section of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutionally discriminates against married same-sex couples.
The decision in the Windsor v. United States case at the federal District Court for the Southern District of New York holds that laws like DOMA should not be presumed to be constitutional, and should instead be subject to a heightened form of judicial scrutiny.
This is yet another legal loss for House Speaker John Boehner and the so-called Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives, which decided to defend DOMA in court after the Obama Administration and the Justice Department determined that the law unconstitutional and indefensible in court.
Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer shared their lives together as a couple in New York City for 44 years. They got engaged in 1967, a couple of years after becoming a couple, and were finally married in Canada in May 2007. Two years later, Thea passed away, after living for decades with multiple sclerosis, which led to progressive paralysis.
When Thea died, the federal government refused to recognize their marriage and taxed Edie's inheritance from Thea as though they were strangers. Under federal tax law, a spouse who dies can leave her assets, including the family home, to the other spouse without incurring estate taxes.
Ordinarily, whether a couple is married for federal purposes depends on whether they are considered married in their state. New York recognized Edie and Thea's marriage, but because of a federal law called the "Defense of Marriage Act," or DOMA, the federal government refuses to treat married same-sex couples, like Edie and Thea, the same way as other married couples.
After decades together, including many years during which Edie helped Thea through her long battle with multiple sclerosis, it was devastating to Edie that the federal government refused to recognize their marriage.
With representation by the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, Edie is challenging the constitutionality of DOMA and seeking a refund of the estate tax she was unfairly forced to pay. Edie alleges that DOMA violates the Equal Protection principles of the U.S. Constitution because it recognizes existing marriages of heterosexual couples, but not of same-sex couples, despite the fact that New York State treats all marriages the same.