19 Oct 2012

US Appeals Court rules federal law defining marriage unconstitutional

A federal appeals court in New York became the latest to strike down a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law which defines marriage as being exclusively between a man and a woman.

The Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York on Thursday ruled the so-called Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The 2-1 decision follows a similar ruling by a federal appeals court in Boston declaring the law unconstitutional. 

The New York Times reported: "It is the first time that a federal appeals court has applied this level of constitutional protection — known as heightened scrutiny — to those unions. The case is now considered by some legal scholars to be the leading candidate for a Supreme Court review of the same-sex marriage issue."

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) noted in a press release: "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."

James Esseks, Director of the ACLU LGBT Project said: “Yet again, a federal court has found that it is completely unfair to treat married same-sex couples as though they’re legal strangers.”

Images: blogs.ajc.com. Thea Spyer (with dark hair) and her wife
Edith Windsor met as young women in New York City in the ’60s,
fell in love and lived together as partners from then on. 
Spyer passed away in 2009.

The law had been challenged by Edith “Edie” Windsor, who sued the federal government for failing to recognize her marriage to her pa rtner 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. 

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. 

Esseks added: “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.”

United States