DOMA takes another hit in court; fed definition of marriage deemed unconstitutional
I love it. The National Organization for Marriage is going to need a truckload of tissues to weep with as the legal cases continue to chip away their definition of marriage as strictly between a man and a woman. In this instance it is the case of Edie Windsor, who sought a refund of federal estate taxes paid by the estate of her late wife, Thea Spyer. If she had been in a heterosexual marriage, Windsor would not have had to shell out taxes.
“Thea and I shared our lives together for 44 years, and I miss her each and every day,” said Windsor. “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.”
Clinton appointee U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Jones (via MetroWeekly‘s report):
Regardless whether a more “searching” form of rational basis scrutiny is required where a classification burdens homosexuals as a class and the states’ prerogatives are concerned, at a minimum this court “must insist on knowing the relation between the classification adopted and the object to be attained. The search for the link between classification and objective gives substance to the equal protection analysis. Additionally, as has always been required under the rational basis test, irrespective of the context, the court must consider whether the government’s asserted interests are legitimate. Pursuant to those established principles, and mindful of the Supreme Court’s jurisprudential cues, the court finds that DOMA’s section 3 does not pass constitutional muster.
The ruling in Windsor’s case, which was filed in the Southern District of New York, comes less than a week after a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit unanimously found DOMA unconstitutional under a type of rational basis analysis, affirming a decision earlier reached on more expansive reasoning by U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro.
U.S. District Court Judge Jeffrey S. White in California reached the same conclusion earlier this year in a case slated for appeals arguments before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit in September.
On May 24, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken reached a similar decision in the class-action lawsuit, finding that Section 3 of DOMA and a provision of tax law unconstitutionally limit same-sex couples and domestic partners from participating in the long-term care plan offered by the California Public Employees Retirement System, or CalPERS.
From the ACLU (more on the case here):
“This decision adds to what has become an avalanche of decisions that DOMA can’t survive even the lowest level of scrutiny by the courts,” said James Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project.
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.
Roberta A. Kaplan, an attorney for Windsor, added, “Although we expect the attorneys for the House of Representatives to appeal today’s decision, we are confident that it will be affirmed on appeal, and we hope that the court will do so expeditiously given that our client is 83 years old.”
“Today’s decision is a victory for families and a victory for human rights,” said New York Civil Liberties Union senior staff attorney Melissa Goodman. “Now, all loving couples in our state can truly enjoy the dignity, respect and legal rights that marriage provides.”
So House Speaker John Boehner and his Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives (“BLAG”) take another smackdown. BLAG’s reasoning for the discrimination was that Windsor’s homosexuality was a choice. Now that he’s 0 for 4, clearly that logic is going nowhere fast.
Human Rights Campaign:
The House Republican leadership hired private attorney Paul Clement to defend the statute in court and this is now the fourth out of four courts where Clement has defended DOMA and lost.
Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese released the following statement in response to the decision:
“The dominoes continue to fall on DOMA with yet another federal court rightly calling it unconstitutional. All loving and committed married couples should be recognized by the federal government yet we continue to see the terrible pain DOMA inflicts on real families. 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.
“We applaud the ACLU and Edie Windsor, as well as the attorneys at Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, for their incredible efforts on behalf of gay and lesbian couples across the nation and are confident that one day soon families will no longer have to live under the burden of this onerous law.”
Congressman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the Ranking Member of the House Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution, and the lead sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA):
“Today’s decision in the case brought by my constituent – and an exemplary human being – Edie Windsor, is yet another major act of validation for equal rights for gay and lesbian Americans. And it is yet another blow to the terribly discriminatory and clearly unconstitutional DOMA. I am again gratified that Paul Clement and Speaker Boehner’s BLAG have been unable to defend a law that is so thoroughly indefensible.
“I congratulate Edie for this first offering of justice after she has had to endure so much injustice. Both the Constitution and basic commonsense tell us that no reasonable law would deny Edie and Thea Spyer, her late fiancée of decades, the very same federal protections and responsibilities that every other committed American couple is afforded.”