Supreme Court Hears Arguments in Widow's Challenge to DOMA
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NEW YORK – Attorneys for Edith "Edie" Windsor told the U.S. Supreme Court today that the Defense of Marriage Act unfairly forced Windsor to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes after the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer, in violation of the equal protection principles guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution.
"Thea and I were legally married. We loved and cared for each other for over 40 years. We deserve to be treated equally by our country, and not like second-class citizens," said Windsor, 83. "While Thea obviously can't be here today, I know how proud she would be to see how far we have come for us to be standing on the steps of the Supreme Court asking for fair treatment of our marriage."
Windsor is represented by attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; the American Civil Liberties Union; the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.
Windsor, who achieved the highest technical rank as a software programmer at IBM, and Spyer, a clinical psychologist, met in the 1960s and lived together for more than four decades in New York City. In 1977, Spyer was diagnosed with progressive multiple sclerosis, and Windsor helped her through her long battle with that disease, which eventually resulted in Spyer's paralysis. The couple was finally legally married in 2007, after a 40-year engagement.
"Two lower courts have concluded that it was unconstitutional for Edie to have to pay a $363,000 estate tax bill simply because, as a lesbian, she was married to a woman, instead of a man," said Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss. "We very much hope that the Supreme Court will do the same."
In October, a federal appeals court ruled for Windsor that "Section 3 of DOMA violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional."
"Edie and Thea saw each other through four decades of good times and bad, and in sickness and in health like any other married couple," said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project. "It's not fair for the federal government to treat them as though their marriage had never happened."
"The Constitution guarantees equal protection of the laws to all people, straight and gay," said Pamela Karlan, co-director of the Stanford Supreme Court Litigation Clinic. "DOMA's sweeping exclusion of legally married gay couples from all of the federal benefits and responsibilities of marriage undercuts fundamental constitutional principles."
"While Edie's home state of New York and eight other states now grant the freedom to marry to gay couples, this law requires the federal government to ignore these lawful marriages simply because the partners are of the same sex. That's irrational," said New York Civil Liberties Union executive director, Donna Lieberman. "It is time for the Supreme Court to strike down this unconstitutional statute once and for all."
Yesterday, the Supreme Court also heard a separate case that involved a constitutional challenge to California's Proposition 8, which relates to the right of same-sex couples to marry in the state of California.
More information about this case can be found at: aclu.org/edie