145 Democratic U.S. representatives file brief opposing DOMA

On Friday, House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer, and 143 other Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives filed a new amicus brief in Windsor v. United States, one of the key cases concerning the so-called Defense of Marriage Act. The brief opposes DOMA, the discriminatory law that prohibits federal respect of lawful marriages between same-sex couples. 

Windsor's case dates back to November 2010, when the ACLU and a law firm filed suit on her behalf. Windsor, a resident of New York state, had legally married Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007 after the two had lived together as a couple in New York for over 40 years. Two years after the ceremony, in February 2009, Spyer passed away from progressive multiple sclerosis, and she left her estate to Windsor. Because the federal government did not recognize Windsor's marriage to Spyer, Windsor was forced to pay a $363,000 federal inheritance tax.   

In June, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Jones ruled in Windsor v. United States that DOMA's Section 3 is unconstitutional. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group - the GOP-majority group that stepped in to defend DOMA in court when the Obama administration's Department of Justice declared DOMA unconstitutional - appealed the ruling. Now, Windsor's lawyers have requested Supreme Court review of her case. Four different DOMA cases are now set to be considered by the Supreme Court for federal review, and experts say that by October, the nation's highest court will likely agree to review at least one.

The main thrust of Friday's brief from the Democrats is that DOMA's Section 3, which restricts marriage to different-sex couples, is unconstitutional. The brief argues four key points:


  1. "Section 3 is not the rational result of impartial lawmaking and violates our constitutional commitment to neutrality of the law where the rights of citizens are at stake."
  2. "Section 3 undermines Congress' legitimate interest in respect state marriages as a means of ensuring the stability and welfare of American families."
  3. "DOMA undercuts Congress' legitimate interest in respecting state sovereignty."
  4. "Congress' interest in conserving resources - an interest that the government's own analysis shows to be undercut by DOMA - cannot come at the cost of equal protection."

A press release from Rep. Pelosi details the significance of the brief, which is designed to serve as a record of opposition from 145 members of the House of Representatives:

The brief makes it clear that the House is not united on DOMA's validity, that the BLAG lawyers do not speak for the entire institution, and that there is no legitimate federal interest in denying married same-sex couples the legal security, rights and responsibilities that federal law provides to couples who are married under state law. Section 3 does not affect married heterosexual couples and their children, who are recognized regardless of DOMA. And this law affirmatively harms married gay and lesbian couples and their children.

As the House amici point out to the court, "it is impossible to believe that any legitimate federal interest is rationally served by depriving a widow like [Edie] Windsor of the marital deduction that allows married couples to pass property to the surviving spouse without penalty, thus maximizing the survivor's financial well-being."

The brief comes two months after Rep. Pelosi and 131 other House Democrats issued a similar filing in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, another landmark DOMA case.   

Read the entire brief HERE, and see all of the members of Congress who signed onto it HERE.   

Freedom to Marry thanks House Democratic Leader Pelosi and the 144 other members of Congress for standing up to oppose DOMA in this brief. We are thrilled to see such incredible support from Congress and point to our continued federal support for the freedom to marry: 151 House members and 32 Senators have co-sponsored the Respect for Marriage Act, and the Respect for Marriage Coalition now includes 74 members. As marriage advocates continue to make the case for marriage across the country, we're seeing more and more influential leaders in the United States take charge and raise their voice about why the freedom to marry is essential and why DOMA is wrong. This brief provides even greater evidence of these facts and will help move the country forward on marriage. 

Read about all of the briefs opposing DOMA: