A federal judge ruled Wednesday that a provision of the federal Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional, making it the fourth court to do so.
The law was challenged by 83-year-old Edith “Edie” Windsor after the federal government failed to recognize her marriage to her partner Thea Spyer, after Spyer’s death in 2009. Her marriage was recognized by the state of New York.
The Defense of Marriage Act was enacted in 1996 and Section 3 of the law, which the case challenged, defined marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. It prohibited legally married same sex couples from receiving federal benefits.
“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.”
U.S. District Court Judge Barbara S. Jones of the Southern District of New York ruled the statue violated the constitution’s guarantee of equal protection because it discriminated against married same sex couples.
“I congratulate Edie for this first offering of justice after she has had to endure so much injustice,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) said. “Both the Constitution and basic commonsense tell us that no reasonable law would deny Edie and Thea Spyer, her late fiancée of decades, the very same federal protections and responsibilities that every other committed American couple is afforded.”
The Obama administration has declined to defend the statute, but U.S. government is still defending the law thanks to Republicans in Congress.
After Obama directed the Department of Justice to no longer the law, the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) voted along party lines to direct the House General Counsel to appointed an attorney to represent the government in the case. The five-member advisory group has the authority to instruct the non-partisan office of the House General Counsel to take legal action on behalf of the U.S. House of Representatives.
“Although we expect the attorneys for the House of Representatives to appeal today’s decision, we are confident that it will be affirmed on appeal, and we hope that the court will do so expeditiously given that our client is 83 years old,” Roberta A. Kaplan, an attorney for Windsor, said.
In 2010, Edie Windsor described her situation to the ACLU. Watch video, uploaded to YouTube, below: