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Fed Judge in NY Finds Marriage Law Unconstitutional

Wednesday, June 06, 2012

Gay Marriage (Getty Images)

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.

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Comments [1]

Henry Juhala

Another victory against anti-gay marriage legislation. This one from United States District Court Federal District of New York. In striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Judge Barbara Jones ruled that the law “should not be presumed to be constitutional, and should instead be subject to a heightened form of judicial scrutiny.”

Here is the link to the ruling:

http://www.aclu.org/files/assets/windsor.pdfh

This actually makes the 6th federal court to rule on DOMA in 5 different cases, not counting the ruling on Prop 8 by the 9th District Court. Last week we had a ruling from the First District U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Massachusetts that ruled on the lower federal court ruling by Judge Tauro of Gill vs. Office of Personnel Management. The other case in Massachusetts by Tauro is Massachusetts vs. Health and Human Services. The court has been reviewing it concurrent to the Gill case but has not yet issued a ruling on Mass vs. HHS. .

Last week there was a ruling on the 9th District Circuit Court of Appeals case in California by Judge Wilken that made a similar ruling against DOMA, but on different reasoning. The other cases are one by Jeffrey S. White in Calif which is slated for appeal in Sept. Lastly is a ruling by U.S. Bankruptcy Judge Thomas Donovan in Calif. The bankruptcy case is important because 19 of 24 federal bankruptcy court justices agreed with Donovan that DOMA is unconstitutional and violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

I highlight the bankruptcy court case because it often gets overlooked and because any case would have to have great merit and be of critical importance before any bankruptcy court would declare anything unconstitutional. Secondly, because it is almost unheard of for so many federal court judges to all join into a singular ruling by another judge to declare something unconstitutional.

Jun. 06 2012 06:41 PM

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