Another Court Challenge, Another Loss for DOMA

Another Court Challenge, Another Loss for DOMA

BY Lucas Grindley

June 06 2012 6:56 PM ET

Edie Windsor and Thea Spyer

The string of rulings that have found the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional continues today.

A federal judge in New York has sided with an 83-year-old woman who found herself subject to inheritance taxes when her wife died and the federal government wouldn't recognize their marriage.

Edie Windsor, who lives in New York, married her late spouse Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007, a marriage that was recognized under New York state law. But because of DOMA, the federal government taxed the inheritance Spyer left for Windsor after she died in 2009, forcing the widow to pay more than $360,000. In her suit, Windsor sought a refund of the tax and argued that DOMA violates the equal protection principles of the U.S. Constitution.

“Thea and I shared our lives together for 44 years, and I miss her each and every day,” said Windsor in a statement. “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.”  

Perhaps the first win for Windsor came when the Obama administration announced it would not defend DOMA in her case, Windsor v. United States of America. The Justice Department said it found the law unconstitutional, but the Republican-led House of Representatives picked up the case and paid for a defense, hiring former Bush solicitor general Paul Clement.

Lawyers for Windsor said they expect the House of Representatives to appeal the decision.

"We are confident that it will be affirmed on appeal," said attorney Roberta A. Kaplan, "and we hope that the court will do so expeditiously given that our client is 83 years old.”

The decision arrived less than one week after the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled DOMA unconstitutional. That case, which focuses on how the federal government treats same-sex couples who are already married in their own states, is widely expected to be heard by the U.S. Supreme Court next year, putting it on the same track as a case about Proposition 8 in California, at least in terms of timing.

The American Civil Liberties Union, which has taken up the Windsor case, points out that DOMA has now been ruled unconstitutional in four separate cases. And the Human Rights Campaign called on Speaker John Boehner to stop spending money on defending DOMA in court.

“The dominoes continue to fall on DOMA," said HRC President Joe Solmonese in a statement. "The real question is when Speaker Boehner will see the writing on the wall and stop wasting taxpayer dollars defending this outrageous law and instead work to repeal it.  Paul Clement’s record of zero for four speaks for itself."

 

Reporter Julie Bolcer contributed to this story.

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