A federal appeals court in New York has
upheld a lower court's ruling which found unconstitutional the
Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law which bans federal
agencies from recognizing the legal marriages of gay and lesbian
Eighty-three-year-old Edith Windsor
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. Constitution.
The House of Representatives, at the
direction of Speaker John Boehner, a Republican from Ohio, stepped in
to defend the law after the Obama administration declined to do so,
saying it believes the law is unconstitutional.
Lawyer Paul Clement argued that gay men
and lesbians, as a group, have political clout and, unlike
African-Americans and women, have never faced “structural
impediments” such as being denied the right to vote.
The court disagreed, saying 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 and Spyer 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.
In an unusual move, Windsor asked the
Supreme Court to review her case before the appeals court had issued
Evan Wolfson, president and founder of
Freedom to Marry, the nation's largest advocate for marriage
equality, cheered the news.
“Today's ruling is the second by a
federal appellate court and the tenth ruling in a row from judges
appointed by presidents from Nixon to Reagan to George W. Bush, all
agreeing that this disgraceful and discriminatory gay exception to
the way the federal government treats married couples must end,”
Wolfson said in a statement. “The Supreme Court should swiftly
agree to hear one or more of these cases and definitively strike down
the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, removing this harsh, unfair
and unconstitutional burden from families, businesses, the military,
and others who want to treat all married couples as what they are:
The decision comes a day after House
Democrats, led by Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, criticized
the $1.5 million spent on defending the law.