American Foundation for Equal Rights

Marriage News Blog

Again! DOMA Ruled Unconstitutional.

The Second Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, saying that the law unfairly treats married gay and lesbian couples differently. This is the second time an appeals court struck down the 1996 law. A federal appeals court in Boston also ruled DOMA unconstitutional earlier this year.  The U.S. Supreme Court has four cases challenging DOMA before it.

Anti-marriage laws have been struck down by three federal courts of appeals, five federal district courts, and one federal bankruptcy court.  These rulings have been signed by seven circuit court judges, seven district court judges, and twenty bankruptcy court judges.

Today’s DOMA opinion was  written by Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush:

DOMA’s classification of same-sex spouses was not substantially related to an important government interest.  Accordingly, we hold that Section 3 of DOMA violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional.

The ACLU, along with law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and the New York Civil Liberties Union brought the case on behalf of Edith “Edie” Windsor, a widow  who was denied federal benefits after her partner of 44 years died in 2009. The couple 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

When [Edie’s wife] 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.

In the 2-1 ruling, the Second Circuit cited AFER’s challenge to Proposition 8, (see page 42 of the decision):

“[T]he argument that withdrawing the designation of ‘marriage’ from same-sex couples could on its own promote the strength or stability of opposite-sex marital relationships lacks any such footing in reality.”
Perry v. Brown, 671 F.3d 1052, 1089 (9th Cir. 2012).

AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer lauded 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.”

Check out this great video from the ACLU telling Edie and Thea’s  story: