Defense of Marriage Act

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is a federal law passed in 1996 that both created a federal definition of marriage as being between a man and a woman and expressly gave states permission to refuse to recognize marriages entered into by same-sex couples in other jurisdictions. The part of DOMA that defines marriage at the federal level – known as Section 3 – was a radical departure from 220 years of federal practice, which was to rely on each state to define marriage and to recognize any marriage legally entered into under state law as a valid marriage for federal purposes.

We are challenging Section 3 of DOMA on behalf of our client Edie Windsor in Windsor v. United States, which is currently pending before the Supreme Court of the United States. In June, the Court will rule on whether DOMA violates equal protection by treating married gay couples as unmarried in over 1,100 federal programs.

DOMA headed to the Supreme Court?

DOMA headed to the Supreme Court?

By James Esseks, Director, ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project at 2:49pm
Today, we asked the United States Supreme Court to review the ACLU’s challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act on behalf of Edie Windsor.  A federal trial court struck down DOMA last month in Edie's case, holding that it violates the federal constitution. Asking for Supreme Court review now, even before the federal appeals court decides Edie’s case, is unusual.  In the vast majority of cases, the Supreme Court won’t take a case until there is a federal appellate decision, but in rare circumstances, it can reach down into lower courts and pluck cases for earlier review.  At this point petitions for Supreme Court review have been filed in two other DOMA cases – GLAD’s Gill v. OPM case, which has been decided by the First Circuit, and Lambda Legal’s Golinski v. OPM  case, which, like Windsor v. United States, doesn’t have an appeals court decision yet. The Court will likely decide the constitutionality of DOMA this coming term, using one or more of these cases as vehicles for addressing the issue.  We filed because we believe that Edie’s story is a strong addition to the striking collection of plaintiffs in the Gill case and to Karen Golinski’s story as well.  Now the Court has three cases, offering a variety of harms, to choose from. Edie is an 83-year-old lesbian widow who spent 44 years with her partner and then spouse, Thea Spyer.  Over the course of decades, Edie and Thea dealt together with Thea’s multiple sclerosis and the progressive paralysis that it caused, deepening their love and commitment as Thea gradually became a paraplegic.  When Thea died, two short years after they finally married in 2007, Edie learned that she owed the IRS $363,000 in estate taxes on her inheritance from Thea.  When Edie found out that a straight widow wouldn’t have owed a dime, she decided to challenge DOMA in court.  Her case was one of two that prompted the Department of Justice to stop defending the constitutionality of DOMA and instead to acknowledge that it violates the federal constitution.
New Legislation Addresses Need for Equal Treatment of Military Spouses

New Legislation Addresses Need for Equal Treatment of Military Spouses

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 2:41pm

Just in time for Independence Day, Rep. Adam Smith (D-Wash.), the senior Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, has introduced the Military Spouses Equal Treatment Act (H.R. 6046).  This important legislation would ensure equality…

"Honey, We Did It!" – Edie Windsor Says Thank You

"Honey, We Did It!" – Edie Windsor Says Thank You

By Robyn Shepherd, ACLU at 4:41pm

Yesterday, Edie Windsor visited the ACLU and NYCLU offices to address the media after her amazing victory in her challenge against the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act. Edie filed a lawsuit with the help of the ACLU and the law firm Paul, Weiss,…

Another DOMA Win!

Another DOMA Win!

By James Esseks, Director, ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual Transgender & AIDS Project at 7:44pm

When it rains, it pours! Late this afternoon, another federal judge ruled that the so-called federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the federal constitution. The ruling came in an ACLU case brought by Edie Windsor after the death…

ACLU Lens: Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down DOMA

ACLU Lens: Federal Appeals Court Strikes Down DOMA

By Robyn Shepherd, ACLU at 12:15pm

A federal appeals court in Massachusetts ruled today that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional because it denies married same-sex couples the same federal benefits available to other married couples.

The case, Gill v. Office of Personnel…

Anti-Gay Pandering Cannot Stop Historic Momentum for LGBT Rights

Anti-Gay Pandering Cannot Stop Historic Momentum for LGBT Rights

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 4:10pm

What an amazing and historic week it has been for the cause of gay rights. On Wednesday, for the first time in our country’s history, a sitting President of the United States said that he supports the freedom to marry for gay and lesbian…

ACLU Lens: President Obama Endorses Freedom to Marry for Same-Sex Couples

ACLU Lens: President Obama Endorses Freedom to Marry for Same-Sex Couples

By Alicia Gay, ACLU at 4:22pm

President Obama today became the first sitting U.S. president to endorse the freedom to marry for same-sex couples. In an interview taped earlier this afternoon, he told ABC News’ Robin Roberts:

“I have to tell you that over the…

A Look at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

A Look at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom

By Dena Sher, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 12:31pm

In 1998, Congress created the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to draw attention to violations of religious freedom in other countries. The commissioners vote annually to list countries that are of particular concern or place…

"Repeal DOMA" Prominent Governors and Mayors Urge Congress

"Repeal DOMA" Prominent Governors and Mayors Urge Congress

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 6:09pm

This week, a group of prominent state governors and big city mayors from across the country urged Congress to repeal the Defense of Marriage Act.

DOMA Repeal Vote Represents a Critical Shift

DOMA Repeal Vote Represents a Critical Shift

By Ian S. Thompson, ACLU Washington Legislative Office at 4:36pm

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-8 in support legislation that would fully repeal the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

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