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The Second Circuit Court of Appeals has struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional and a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution in a 2-1 decision released Thursday morning.
The ruling in Windsor v. USA, the case surrounding 83-year-old lesbian widow Edith Windsor, makes the appeals court in New York the second federal court to declare the 1996 law, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, as unconstitutional.
Specifically, the court ruled that “heightened scrutiny” must be applied in the case:
In this case, all four factors justify heightened scrutiny: A) homosexuals as a group have historically endured persecution and discrimination; B) homosexuality has no relation to aptitude or ability to contribute to society; C) homosexuals are a discernible group with non-obvious distinguishing characteristics, especially in the subset of those who enter same-sex marriages; and D) the class remains a politically weakened minority.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union, which is aiding Windsor in her suit, this is the first federal appeals court ruling to state that government discrimination against gay people deserves heightened judicial review.
The appeals court’s ruling comes three weeks after oral arguments were heard in the case. Windsor’s case reached the 2nd Circuit Appeals Court after a federal judge sided with Windsor in June, ruling that the government must refund the more than $363,000 in taxes paid by Windsor following the death of her wife, Thea Spyer. Windsor is suing to recoup about $363,000, federal estate tax she was forced to pay on her inheritance from Spyer. The federal government does not tax inheritances that pass from one spouse to the other, but because of DOMA the federal government has refused to recognize Windsor and Spyer’s marriage.
In a statement, Windsor applauded the ruling as striking down a law that “violated the fundamental American principle of fairness that we all cherish.”
“I know Thea would have been so proud to see how far we have come in our fight to be treated with dignity,” Windsor said.
Four DOMA challenges, including Windsor, have been petitioned for review by the Supreme Court. The ruling from Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, who was appointed by President George H. W. Bush, is another win for marriage equality advocates and another loss for the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), created by House Republicans to defend DOMA in court.
Justice Chester Straub dissented from the majority ruling, arguing courts should not intervene in such “robust” political debates:
Whether connections between marriage, procreation, and biological offspring recognized by DOMA and the uniformity it imposes are to continue is not for the courts to decide, but rather an issue for the American people and their elected representatives to settle through the democratic process. Courts should not intervene where there is a robust political debate because doing so poisons the political well, imposing a destructive anti-majoritarian constitutional ruling on a vigorous debate. Courts should not entertain claims like those advanced here, as we can intervene in this robust debate only to cut it short.
READ the ruling and dissent here: