The NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund (NAACP LDF) has called on the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), saying that the 1996 law “perpetuates a social hierarchy” similar to the “separate but equal” system of segregation, also known as Jim Crow laws.

The NAACP LDF makes the argument in an amicus brief filed in support of plaintiffs in United States v. Windsor.

The case set to be heard later this month challenges DOMA's restriction on the federal government to recognize the legal marriages of gay and lesbian couples.

“DOMA's denial of marital benefits under federal law to gays and lesbians subordinates them within the institution of marriage. And like early laws that were designed to oppress African Americans, DOMA relegates gays and lesbians to an unequal and inferior status as a group,” the brief states.

“Of course, the nature of discrimination against gays and lesbians differs fundamentally from de jure racial segregation, just as racial discrimination differs from discrimination based on sex and other suspect classifications to which heightened scrutiny applies.”

“But DOMA and other laws that purposefully infringe on the rights of gay people are analogous to the racial caste system effectuated under 'separate but equal' in an important respect: they create and perpetuate a social hierarchy that is premised on the superiority of one group over another.”

The NAACP LDF originated in the legal department of the NAACP in the 1930s. It broke off from the NAACP in 1939.