Federal Appeals Court Declares “Defense of Marriage Act” Unconstitutional
Ruling Declares Government Discriminated Against Edie Windsor After Death of Same-Sex Spouse
NEW YORK - October 18 – A federal appeals court ruled today that 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, known as “heightened scrutiny.”
The law had been challenged by Edith “Edie” Windsor, who sued the federal government for failing to recognize her marriage to her partner Thea Spyer, after Spyer’s death in 2009. Windsor and Spyer, who were a couple for 44 years, were married in Canada in 2007, and were considered married by their home state of New York.
“This law violated the fundamental American principle of fairness that we all cherish,” said Windsor. “I know Thea would have been so proud to see how far we have come in our fight to be treated with dignity.”
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.
When Thea Spyer died in 2009, she 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 at all. But because DOMA prevents recognition of the otherwise valid marriages of same-sex couples, Windsor had to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes.
“Yet again, a federal court has found that it is completely unfair to treat married same-sex couples as though they’re legal strangers,” said James Esseks, Director of the ACLU LGBT Project. “Edie and Thea were there for each other in sickness and in health like any other married couple, and it’s unfair for the government to disregard both their marriage and the life they built together and treat them like second-class citizens.”
Windsor, a senior computer systems programmer, and Spyer, a clinical psychologist, met in the early 1960s, and lived together for more than four decades in Greenwich Village. Despite not being able to get legally married, they were engaged to each other in 1967. Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and Windsor helped her through her long battle with the disease. They were finally legally married in May 2007.
“We are pleased that the federal circuit that represents three states that provide their gay and lesbian citizens with the right to marry affirmed the decision of the district court,” said Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, counsel to Ms. Windsor. “Given her age and health, we are eager for Ms. Windsor to get a refund of the unconstitutional tax she was forced to pay as soon as possible.”
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.
“Edie and Thea’s home state of New York has long respected the marriages of same-sex couples and explicitly supports the freedom to marry,” said Mariko Hirose, staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union. “It is only right that the federal government respect the state’s decision and treat all married couples fairly.”
For a copy of the decision, go to:
More on this case can be found at: www.aclu.org/edie
Assembly Member O’Donnell Praises Federal Court Decision that DOMA is Unconstitutional
October 18, 2012 – Today, in response to news that the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional, Assembly Member Daniel O'Donnell stated:
"The Defense of Marriage Act is a lingering remnant of hatred and discrimination in the United States, and it has no place in our society. Today, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the validity of this principle and struck a resounding blow for the idea that all Americans deserve equal rights, not just a select few.
"I send my sincerest congratulations to Edie Windsor for her personal victory and my thanks for her perseverance—I know first-hand how difficult and truly draining it can be to be a plaintiff for Marriage Equality, as I was a plaintiff in the Marriage Equality lawsuit here in New York, first winning and then ultimately losing the case. Ms. Windsor’s resolve and determination speak volumes. I also congratulate my attorney, Robbie Kaplan, for her tremendous work and continuing victories in this fight for equality."
Assembly Member O’Donnell was the legislative sponsor of the Marriage Equality Act in New York, leading the Act to passage five times in the Assembly before it was signed into law in 2011.
Assembly Member O'Donnell has represented the 69th Assembly District since 2003. His district includes Morningside Heights, Manhattan Valley, and portions of the Upper West Side and West Harlem. He serves as the Chair of the Ethics and Guidance Committee; Chair of the Subcommittee on Criminal Procedure; and is a member of the Education; Codes; Environmental Conservation; Judiciary; Oversight, Analysis & Investigation; and Tourism, Arts & Sports Development committees.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit struck down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act today, saying the law violated the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection. Evan Wolfson, president and founder of Freedom to Marry, released the following statement:
"Today's ruling is the second by a federal appellate court and the tenth ruling in a row from judges appointed by presidents from Nixon to Reagan to George W. Bush, all agreeing that this disgraceful and discriminatory gay exception to the way the federal government treats married couples must end. The Supreme Court should swiftly agree to hear one or more of these cases and definitively strike down the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, removing this harsh, unfair and unconstitutional burden from families, businesses, the military, and others who want to treat all married couples as what they are: married."
Freedom to Marry is the campaign to win marriage nationwide. We are pursuing our Roadmap to Victory by working to win the freedom to marry in more states, grow the national majority for marriage, and end federal marriage discrimination. We partner with individuals and organizations across the country to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage and the protections, responsibilities, and commitment that marriage brings.
Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER), the sole sponsor of the federal constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 8, issued the following statement on today’s decision:
“Today’s decision by the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit continues the unceasing momentum toward marriage equality for all Americans and affirms that discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans is unfair, unjust, and unconstitutional. The body of evidence in support of marriage equality is clear and convincing. This decision, as well previous decisions in other DOMA cases and in our federal constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 8, signals that the arguments opposing the recognition of marriage for gay and lesbian Americans have no legal basis. With today’s ruling, we are one step closer to the day when marriage equality is a reality for every American.”
About the American Foundation for Equal Rights
The American Foundation for Equal Rights is the sole sponsor of Perry v. Brown (now Hollingsworth v. Perry), the federal constitutional challenge to California’s Proposition 8. After bringing together bipartisan attorneys Theodore B. Olson and David Boies to lead its legal team, AFER successfully advanced the Perry case through Federal District Court and the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals. The Foundation is committed to achieving full federal marriage equality.