Fed Judge in NY Finds Marriage Law Unconstitutional

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A Federal judge in New York has joined several other judges across the country in striking down a section of the "Defense of Marriage Act" or DOMA that denies benefits to married same-sex couples.

Judge Barbara Jones ruled Wednesday in a case brought in federal court in Manhattan by a woman whose partner died in 2009. She awarded $353,000 to the plaintiff, Edith Windsor.

Lawyers for Windsor had argued that the law violates the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution.

The judge said the law fails because it tries to reexamine the states' decisions concerning same-sex marriage. She said such a sweeping review interferes with a system of government that places matters at the core of the domestic relations law exclusively within the province of the states.

“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.

While the Obama administration declined to defend DOMA in court, the House of Representatives' Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group appointed an attorney to represent the government in the case.

Melissa Goodman, a staff attorney with the New York Civil Liberties Union, said the ruling will allow same sex couples to enjoy more of the benefits of marriage.

“For example, filing taxes jointly as a married couples and getting the benefits that come with that. Insuring that they can get full social security benefits and survivorship benefits from their spouses,” she explained.

She added the ruling has a serious and concrete effect on people’s lives.

When Edith's partner, Thea Spyer died, Windsor was left all the property, including the apartment they shared in Greenwich Village. Normally, Spyer's estate would have passed to her spouse without any estate tax, but because DOMA Windsor had to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes.

The issue of gay marriage seems headed to the Supreme Court. High-profile cases in California and Massachusetts could reach the nation's highest court at the same time.

Kathleen Horan contributed reporting.