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Back to Section One | Back to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, June 8, 2012 - Volume 40 Issue 23
Say it again: DOMA is unconstitutional
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Say it again: DOMA is unconstitutional

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

A federal district judge in New York has ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional because there is no 'rational basis' to deprive Gay and Lesbian couples of the rights enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples.

Judge Barbara Jones ruled on June 6 that Edie Windsor had been deprived of her constitutional right to equal protection because she was forced to pay estate taxes after the death of her wife, Thea Spyer. Married opposite-sex couples are able to inherit property from their spouses without paying estate taxes.

In her opinion, Jones wrote that '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.'

Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage for federal purposes as solely between a man and a woman.

In a statement released by her ACLU attorneys, Windsor said, 'Thea and I shared our lives together for 44 years, and I miss her each and every day. 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.'

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the lead sponsor of the Respect for Marriage Act to repeal DOMA, issued a statement celebrating the decision.

'I congratulate Edie for this first offering of justice after she has had to endure so much injustice,' he said.

'Both the Constitution and basic common sense 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.'

In a swipe at the so-called Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group set up by House Speaker John Boehner to defend DOMA in court, and its attorney Paul Clement, Nadler added, 'I am again gratified that Paul Clement and Speaker Boehner's BLAG have been unable to defend a law that is so thoroughly indefensible.'

Windsor's case was one of two cited by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder in his February 23, 2011, letter to Boehner explaining the administration's conclusion that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional.

With Wednesday's ruling, Jones becomes the latest of several federal trial-court judges to find that Section 3 of DOMA violates the equal protection clause.

In July 2010, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro first struck down DOMA in Gill v. OPM, a decision that was sustained last week by the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.

U.S. District Judge Jeffrey S. White reached a similar conclusion in February of this year, in Golinski v. OPM. On May 24, U.S. District Judge Claudia Wilken ruled 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.

In addition, a federal bankruptcy judge in California found DOMA unconstitutional because it barred married same-sex couples from filing joint bankruptcy petitions, a decision that resulted in the federal government no longer contesting such petitions.

It is not known if BLAG will appeal Jones' ruling to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.

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