NY Appeals Court Rules Against Defense Of Marriage Act
With Barack Obama becoming the first president to endorse same-sex marriage earlier this year and the Democratic Party adding it to its official platform, marriage equality has been a major issue in this election year's political conversation. Maryland will be voting on a same-sex marriage ballot proposition this November, which appears likely to pass.
Thursday's decision by the New York court follows a May ruling by an appeals court in Boston and likely sets the stage for the Supreme Court to look at the Defense of Marriage Act during its next term.
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As the New York Times reports, the appeals court ruled in a two-to-one decision that Edith Windsor, the widow of a deceased woman, Thea Spyer, was unconstitutionally discriminated against by not being allowed to claim a tax deduction that is available to the surviving partner of an opposite-sex marriage on the estate that Spyer had left to her. Windsor and Spyer were married in Canada, a union that was legally recognized in New York, and had been together for over 40 years.
The Defense of Marriage Act, more commonly known by its acronym DOMA, was signed into law by President Bill Clinton and contains a provision that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. The Obama administration had recently stopped defending that part of the law in court, coinciding with its more pronounced ideological shift toward full support of marriage equality.
Judge Dennis Jacobs wrote the majority opinion upholding a lower court decision stating that Windsor's inability to claim the deduction was in violation of the constitution's equal protection clause. As the Washington Post reports:
"Jacobs, though, went beyond the Boston court, saying discrimination against gays should be scrutinized by the courts in the same heightened way as discrimination faced by women was in the 1970s. At the time, he noted, they faced widespread discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere. The heightened scrutiny, as it is referred to in legal circles, would mean government discrimination against gays would be assumed to be unconstitutional.
'The question is not whether homosexuals have achieved political successes over the years; they clearly have. The question is whether they have the strength to politically protect themselves from wrongful discrimination,' said Jacobs, who was appointed to the bench in 1992 by President George H.W. Bush."
New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, a noted supporter of marriage equality who had filed an amicus brief in support of Windsor, issued a statement cheering the decision:
"Today’s decision affirms that DOMA deprives same sex couples of equal protection under the law. This ruling is an important step in ensuring the rights of men and women are not dependent upon who they love and who they chose to spend their lives with. We have much more to do, but we are another step further on the road to a more perfect union for all Americans."
Windsor celebrated the ruling, saying, "Thea would have been so proud to see how far we have come in our fight to be treated with dignity," according to the Washington Post.
Read more of Neon Tommy's coverage of same-sex marriage here.
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