The Second Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, saying that the law unfairly treats married gay and lesbian couples differently. This is the second time an appeals court struck down the 1996 law. A federal appeals court in Boston also ruled DOMA unconstitutional earlier this year. The U.S. Supreme Court has four cases challenging DOMA before it.
Anti-marriage laws have been struck down by three federal courts of appeals, four federal district courts, and one federal bankruptcy court. These rulings have been signed by seven circuit court judges, six district court judges, and twenty bankruptcy court judges.
Today’s DOMA opinion was written by Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, an appointee of President George H.W. Bush:
‘DOMA’s sweep arguably creates more discord and anomaly than uniformity.’
The ACLU, along with law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, and the New York Civil Liberties Union brought the case on behalf of Edith ‘Edie’ Windsor, a widow who was denied federal benefits after her partner of 44 years died in 2009. The couple married in Canada in 2007, and were considered married by their home state of New York. …
In her lawsuit, Windsor argued that DOMA violates the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution because it requires the government to treat same-sex couples who are legally married as strangers. …
When [Edie’s wife] Thea Spyer died in 2009, she left all of her property to Windsor, including the apartment they shared. Because they were married, Spyer’s estate normally would have passed to her spouse without any estate tax at all. But because DOMA prevents recognition of the otherwise valid marriages of same-sex couples, Windsor had to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes.
More from Chris Geidner, at Buzzfeed:
The 2-1 opinion of the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in Edith Windsor’s case came just three weeks after the three-judge panel heard oral arguments from the lawyers in the case.
It is the second appeals court to hold the law unconstitutional, and the Supreme Court has several requests pending to resolve the constitutionality of the law.
The opinion – authored by the conservative chief judge of the Second Circuit, Dennis Jacobs – is another blow to the House Republican leadership, which has been defending the law since the Obama administration determined that the law is unconstitutional in February 2011.
And from Jim Burroway at Box Turtle Bulletin:
The Second Court of Appeals’ ruling today is important for two reasons: First, the court find that heightened scrutiny is justified in evaluating DOMA … .
According to the ACLU which brought the case on behalf of Edie Windsor, this is the first federal appeals court ruling to hold that government discrimination against gay people deserves heightened scrutiny. This means that the government must demonstrate that the law serves an important governmental interest in order to justify such discrimination. …
The court’s ruling was 2-1 (the dissenter was Clinton-appointee Judge Chester Straub), and the second reason this ruling is so important is that Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote the majority opinion. Judge Jacobs is a very conservative judge and a favorite of the Federalist Society. …