Another Federal Judge Finds DOMA Unconstitutional

U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Jones today ruled the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional in the Edith Windsor case, brought by the ACLU.

WindsorHere's what our legal expert Ari Ezra Waldman wrote about the case, which was filed by the ACLU, back in 2010, before marriage equality had passed in New York:

The ACLU and Paul Weiss are bringing the case of Edie Windsor, the 81-year-old widow of Thea Spyer, subject of the documentary, Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement, and who was forced to pay $350,000 in estate taxes on Thea's estate upon her death because the federal government did not recognize that the two were married. Had DOMA Section 3 not been on the books and Edie enjoyed federal recognition of her marriage, Thea could have passed her entire estate to Edie tax free.

This case is out of New York, which does not have marriage equality, but recognizes same-sex marriages legally performed elsewhere. That only slightly changes the legal landscape, but not in any significant way. Suffice it to say, Edie's and Thea's marriage was legal in New York, and while they received state benefits, they received no federal benefits and were subject to the federal estate tax. Because they weren't married in the eyes of the federal government, which permits estates to pass from spouse to spouse upon death tax free, Edie was treated differently than similarly situated heterosexual couples simply because Edie is a lesbian and married a woman.

The ACLU is asking for a declaration that DOMA Section 3, as applied to Edie via the IRS code, is unconstitutional. Edie is seeking her $350,000 back from the government.

Wrote Jones in the opinion:

Regardless whether a more "searching" form of rational basis scrutiny is required where a classification burdens homosexuals as a class and the states' prerogatives are concerned, 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.

Read the full opinion HERE.


  1. Bingo says

    The fun in reading this decision is in seeing how it references all the others that have found DOMA section 3 unconstitutional: Golinski, Dragovitch, In re Levenson, Gill, Mass., and the combined opinion in those last 2 from the end of May.

    Speaking with one voice…

  2. Oliver says

    @Josh, you might want to re-read the text, especially this verbiage:
    “Here’s what our legal expert Ari Ezra Waldman wrote about the case, which was filed by the ACLU, back in 2010, before marriage equality had passed in New York:”

  3. says

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    introducerea unor butoane sociale marcare la aceste bloguri. cel puţin
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  4. MT says

    @Josh and Oliver: I actually got caught up on that language too. I think my brain just refuses to look back on a time when we didn’t have marriage equality in NY – a happy probelm to have I fully realize. :-)

  5. Micklest says

    It’s the repayment of estate which really interests me. Our friends who were a couple of over 50 years and married last year in their home state of New York, for example. The older of the two men died at 92, six months after their marriage. The survivor not only got hit with estate taxes, but was denied pension benefits from his husbands’ former employer, Chase Bank. You go, ACLU!!!

  6. chuck says

    None of these lower court decisions mean a thing if SCOTUS rejects them. Very similar to what happened in Wisconsin: “such a liberal state would never accept the Far-Right!”.
    The US is undergoing a change similar to what happened in the 1930’s but this time the fascists are winning.

  7. MickleSt says

    Ari, I know the recent decisions are keeping you busy around here. But would you care to comment on the likelihood of Edie actully getting that tax refund? My feeling is that, while this might be yet another case which helps defeat DOMA, there may be no legal precedent for such a refund, since DOMA was in effect at the time. And anyway, when did the government ever willingly give back that kind of money?

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