U.S. District Court Judge finds DOMA unconstitutional in ‘Windsor v. United States’

Judges throughout the country are continuing to rule that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the law that prohibits federal recognition of marriages between same-sex couples, violates the U.S. Constitution. Yesterday, U.S. District Court Judge Barbara Jones ruled in Windsor v. United States that DOMA's Section 3, which defines marriage as a relationship between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional.

The case dates back to November 2010, when the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, working with the American Civil Liberties Union, filed suit on behalf of Edith Windsor. 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 marriage, Spyer passed away, 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. Had their marriage been accorded the same status under federal law as a different-sex marriage, Windsor would have paid $0 in taxes.

In yesterday's ruling, Judge Jones found DOMA unconstitutional on "rational basis." She wrote:

Even if Congress had developed a newfound interest in promoting or maintaining consistency in the marital benefits that the federal government provides, DOMA is not a legitimate method for doing so. To accomplish that consistency, DOMA operates to reexamine the states' decisions concerning same-sex marriage. It sanctions some of those decisions and rejects others. But such a sweeping federal review in this arena does not square with our federalist system of government, which places matters at the "core" of the domestic relations law exclusively within the province of the states.

Jones' ruling in Windsor v. United States is the third judicial case in the past month that saw a positive development for the freedom to marry in the courts.

Last week, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit declared DOMA unconstitutional in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The ruling was decided unanimously by a panel of three judges, including two Republican appointees.

Earlier in May, Judge Claudia Wilken also found that Section 3 of DOMA violates the equal protection rights of same-sex couples.

Freedom to Marry is excited about these judicial developments, as they bring same-sex couples one step closer to having their legal marriages honored by the federal government. We will continue to build off of the momentum of these court cases and work to create a national climate that supports the freedom to marry.

One way we're advocating for an official end to DOMA is by founding - and co-chairing with the Human Rights Campaign - the Respect for Marriage Coalition, a group of 74 diverse organizations whose mission is to advance the Respect for Marriage Act, the bill that would overturn DOMA. Nearly 150 members of the House of Representatives and over 30 members of the U.S. Senate have signed on as cosponsors for the bill.

Click here to ask your representatives in Congress to cosponsor the Respect for Marriage Act so that we can continue chipping away at DOMA and work toward overturning the discriminatory law once and for all.