An appeals court ruling declaring the
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional increases the
likelihood that the Supreme Court will take the case.
The 2-to-1 ruling by the Court of
Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York is the first to apply
heightened scrutiny to the unions of gay and lesbian couples.
The New York Times reported that
the distinction increases its chances of review before the Supreme
The decision in Windsor v. United
States is the second by a federal appeals court to strike down
the 1996 law which bars federal agencies from recognizing the legal
marriages of gay couples.
In an unusual move, the case's
plaintiff, Edith Windsor,
asked the high court to review her case before the appeals court had
issued its ruling.
“It's an incredible moment in the
struggle for gay rights in this country,” Jame D. Esseks, director
of the American Civil Liberties Union's project on LGBT issues, told
In its decision, the court said that it
believes “review of Section 3 of DOMA requires heightened scrutiny”
and that gay people “have historically endured persecution and
discrimination.” “The class remains a politically weakened
minority,” the court opined.
Windsor, 83, sued the federal
government after she received an estate bill of more than $360,000
resulting from the death of her wife Thea Spyer. Windsor's lawyers
argued that DOMA violates the equal protection guarantee of the U.S.
The women shared their lives for 44
years and married in Toronto, Canada in 2007. In 2009, New York
began recognizing the marriages of gay couples, although gay couples
could not enter such unions in the Empire State until last year.
Spyer died in 2009.
At a press conference on Thursday,
Windsor said she was “thrilled” by the decision, adding that she
found it “so offensive that his woman that I lived with and adored,
and had loved me, that they treated her as if she was a stranger in
Spyer, she said, “would have been so
proud to see how far we've come.”