New York, NY – On Thursday, the United States Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit became the second federal appeals court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), ruling that the law’s denial of federal benefits to married gay couples is unconstitutional. DOMA, which was signed into law in 1996 by President Bill Clinton, prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages, and bans states from being forced to recognize such unions.
The court ruled in favor of Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old gay widow who sued the federal government over more than $363,000 in estate taxes after she was denied the benefit of spousal deductions.
In a 2-to-1 majority ruling, the appeals court found that DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution, and added that LGBT Americans have “suffered a history of discrimination” similar to that experienced by other minorities in the past.
“Homosexuals are not in a position to adequately protect themselves from the discriminatory wishes of the majoritarian public,” wrote Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, a conservative Republican who was appointed to the 2nd Circuit in 2006 by President George W. Bush.
The case concerned money Windsor believed she was entitled to from the IRS, but the larger question concerned whether the federal government can ignore a state-sanctioned marriage.
In February, the Obama administration said that the Justice Department would stop defending DOMA in court, an issue that has since been taken up by the House Republican leadership. In May, a federal appeals court in Boston ruled in a similar fashion to the 2nd Circuit, and the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to eventually take up the matter, possibly as early as this Spring.
Criticizing the ruling, National Organization for Marriage (NOM) President Brian Brown said, “This is yet another example of judicial activism and elite judges imposing their views on the American people, and further demonstrates why it is [an] imperative for the U.S. Supreme Court.”
Windsor and Thea Clara Spyer were legally wed in 2007 in Toronto, but Spyer—who had first proposed to Windsor in 1967—died in 2009, two years before New York State legalized marriage equality. After the ruling, Windsor described her 42-year relationship with Spyer as “extremely happy.”
“What I’m feeling is elated,” Windsor said. “Did I ever think it could come to be, altogether?” she asked. “Not a chance in hell.”