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Breaking: DOMA Ruled ‘Unconstitutional’ In Lesbian Estate Tax Case

by David Badash on June 6, 2012

in Civil Rights,Discrimination,Marriage,News,Politics

DOMA has again been ruled unconstitutional by a federal court judge, this time in the heartbreaking case of Edie Windsor, who was fighting a $353,053 tax bill she received because her wife had died. The judge ordered a refund of of the taxes plus interest, noting “section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act … is unconstitutional as applied to Plaintiff.” This is the fifth federal court to strike down DOMA.

This case was particularly important, because Speaker of the House John Boehner‘s hand-picked lawyer, Paul Clement, fought the case as part of his $1.5 million retainer, and because Clement claimed Edie Windsor’s homosexuality was a “choice.” Also, the case demonstrates the personal impacts of DOMA, as Edith S. Windsor, the 83-year old widow of Thea C. Spyer, was forced to pay hundreds of thousands of dollars in estate taxes, but had she been married to a man, there would have been no taxes on the estate. Stories like these, when related to ordinary Americans, help them understand why DOMA is wrong.

READ: What John Boehner’s House Is Saying — In Court — About Gay Homes

Section 3 of DOMA is particularly egregious, and was the cause of President Obama and Eric Holder’s decision to stop defending DOMA in court. Holder last year wrote:

The President has also concluded that Section 3 of DOMA, as applied to legally married same-sex couples, fails to meet that standard and is therefore unconstitutional. Given that conclusion, the President has instructed the Department not to defend the statute in such cases.

This is yet another case the BLAG and Paul Clement have lost, paid for with your tax dollars.

Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi an other lawmakers have pleaded with Boehner to stop defending DOMA, as it gets ruled unconstitutional in every case, yet he refuses.

The ACLU adds:

Windsor and Spyer were married in Canada in 2007, and were considered married by their home state of New York.

“Thea and I shared our lives together for 44 years, and I miss her each and every day,” said Windsor. “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.”

In her lawsuit, Windsor argues 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 though they were not, in fact, married.

When 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. 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.

“This decision adds to what has become an avalanche of decisions that DOMA can’t survive even the lowest level of scrutiny by the courts,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project.

Windsor, a senior computer systems programmer, and Spyer, a clinical psychologist, met in the early 1960s, and lived together for more than four decades in Greenwich Village. Despite not being able to get legally married, they were engaged to each other in 1967. Spyer was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and Windsor helped her through her long battle with the disease. They were finally legally married in May 2007.

Read the actual court decision here.

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{ 7 comments }

Brian Stroup June 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm

Gotta LOL at "conservatives" trying to force a "death tax" on someone and getting smacked down!

Scott_Rose June 6, 2012 at 6:07 pm

I tried to vote Thumbs Up on Brian's comment above, but accidentally clicked Thumbs Down. Believe me that I love Brian's comment.

LOrion June 6, 2012 at 6:46 pm

Great verdict. But please this is so complicated, please always specify the COURT, DISTRICT etc and even maybe Case # when discussing all these DOMA cases. Had to assume it was in a New York Court, David you don't say in 1st paragraph.

LOrion June 6, 2012 at 6:49 pm

Also I don't really think Nancy is pleased with Boehner, might have pleaded with him though.

Goose09 June 6, 2012 at 11:43 pm

My faith in the goodness of humanity is a little bit stronger now. Whatever gods exist bless you Mrs. Windsor. I am sorry for your loss, but at least this little victory can help to sweeten the memory of your beloved.

mexicubaz June 7, 2012 at 1:46 am

Too bad there is not a class action for those of us forced to pay higher taxes due to our legal marriages not being recognized by the federal government. Each and every year I end up paying 2-3K more in higher taxes, mainly on the health insurance that my employer provides for Same-Sex domestic partners. I would love to recover 6 years of tax penalties.

AmericanFellow June 7, 2012 at 2:55 pm

so, a legal precedent has been set! courts follow precedents due to oaths taken to the law and other courts' legal reasonings. it's a first step but a needed one. doma will die, sooner than later i believe. cause to celebrate – beers and pizza at my house! all friends invited! :D :D :D

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