DOMA gets knocked by another federal judge

WiG

Another U.S. District Court judge – this time in New York state – has ruled that a section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

Four other federal courts have ruled against DOMA.

The New York challenge was filed on behalf of Edith “Edie” Windsor, whose marriage in Canada in 2007 to Thea Spyer was never recognized by the federal government. When Spyer died in 2009, Windsor suffered financial loss under DOMA, along with the grief of losing her wife.

Spyer left all of her property to Windsor, including the apartment they shared. Because they were married, Spyer’s estate normally would have passed to her spouse without any estate tax. But because DOMA prevents recognition of same-sex marriages, Windsor had to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes.

Windsor, represented by the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union and a private firm, 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 though they were not married.

Windsor’s case was one in which the Justice Department, with support from the president, declined to offer a defense. So last spring, the Republicans in the House of Representatives hired an attorney to defend for DOMA, which defines for federal purposes that marriage is between a man and a woman.

On June 6, U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones ruled that DOMA interferes with the states’ business of regulating domestic relations and “that incursion skirts important principles of federalism and therefore cannot be legitimate, in this court’s view.”

“Thea and I shared our lives together for 44 years, and I miss her each and every day,” said Windsor of New York. “It’s thrilling to have a court finally recognize how unfair it is for the government to have treated us as though we were strangers.”

James Esseks of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, said, “This decision adds to what has become an avalanche of decisions that DOMA can’t survive even the lowest level of scrutiny by the courts.”

As part of the ruling, which likely will be appealed, Jones ordered the government to refund the estate tax that Windsor paid.

In the years since Windsor and Spyer married in Canada, New York has legalized same-sex marriage. New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman responded to the federal decision, calling it “a major step forward in the fight for equality.”

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