President Obama Says Discriminatory "Defense Of Marriage Act" Is Unconstitutional

February 23, 2011

Justice Department Won't Defend ACLU Lawsuit On Behalf Of Surviving Spouse Challenging Government's Failure To Recognize Her Marriage

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
CONTACT: (212) 549-2582 or 549-2666; media@aclu.org

NEW YORK – In an historic show of support for equal treatment under the law, the Obama administration announced today that it will no longer defend the discriminatory "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA) in court. In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder said that President Obama has concluded that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional because it fails to meet the legal standard – "heightened scrutiny" – that applies when the government treats gay people and straight people differently.

One of the cases challenging DOMA was brought by Edith "Edie" Windsor, who shared her life with her late spouse, Thea Spyer, for 44 years. Windsor filed a lawsuit against the federal government for refusing to recognize their marriage and imposing a $350,000 tax on Spyer's estate when she died that Windsor would not have had to pay if she were married to a man. Windsor brought the lawsuit with the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union, the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP and the New York Civil Liberties Union.

The following can be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, Executive Director of the ACLU:

"The president did the right thing and just propelled gay rights into the 21st century, where it belongs. Our government finally recognizes what we knew 14 years ago — that the so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act' is a gross violation of the Constitution's guarantee of equal protection before the law. DOMA betrays core American values of fairness, justice and dignity for all, and has no place in America. Our Constitution promises that the government will treat everyone equally. Today's announcement is a recognition that gay people, too, are promised equal treatment under the law. Now it is only a matter of time before LGBT people in the United States will finally have full equality in our society."

The following can be attributed to James Esseks, Director of the ACLU Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Project:

"Edie Windsor loved and cared for her spouse Thea Spyer for years, only to be treated like a total stranger after Thea's death. We are delighted that the government acknowledges that it is completely unfair to pretend that Edie and Thea were not married and treat their marriage differently from married straight couples."

The following can be attributed to Edith Windsor, lead plaintiff in the case Windsor v. United States:

"When I brought this case, I knew that the government would never be able to justify that I had to pay a $350,000 estate tax simply because I was married to a woman, rather than a man. There are not words to express my feelings today that President Obama and the Department of Justice have done the right thing by recognizing this fundamental principle that all people and all marriages are entitled to be treated equally under the United States Constitution. My only regret is that my beloved late spouse, Thea Spyer, isn't here today to share in this historic moment. But in my heart, I feel that she knows."

More information on the lawsuit can be found here: www.aclu.org/edie

Attorney General Eric Holder's statement can be found here: http://www.justice.gov/opa/pr/2011/February/11-ag-222.html.

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