Attorneys representing an 83-year-old lesbian woman on Monday asked the U.S. Supreme Court to hear her challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Edith “Edie” Windsor challenged the law after the federal government failed to recognize her marriage to her partner Thea Spyer, after Spyer’s death in 2009. Windsor and Spyer lived together in New York for more than four decades, and were legally married in 2007.
When Spyer died, she left all of her property to Windsor. Her marriage was recognized by the state of New York, but because of Section 3 of DOMA, Windsor had to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes that heterosexual couples are not required to pay.
DOMA was enacted in 1996 and Section 3 of the law, which the case challenged, defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. It prohibits legally married same sex couples from receiving federal benefits. In June, 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.
“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.”
Now Windsor hopes the Supreme Court will soon hear the case and strike down DOMA for good.
“Edie Windsor, who recently celebrated her 83rd birthday, suffers from a serious heart condition,” said Roberta Kaplan, a partner at Paul Weiss and counsel to Windsor. “Because the District Court’s ruling in her favor is entitled to an automatic stay of enforcement, Edie cannot yet receive a refund of the unconstitutional estate tax that she was forced to pay simply for being gay. The constitutional injury inflicted on Edie should be remedied within her lifetime.”
The Justice Department recently asked the Supreme Court to hear DOMA challenges in two other cases.
“With Edie’s case and the two others, the high court has before it striking illustrations of the many different harms that DOMA inflicts on many thousands of married same-sex couples all across the country,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Edie and Thea got married after making a life-long commitment to each other, and it’s just wrong for the government to pretend that they were legal strangers.”