Federal Appeals Court Declares DOMA Unconstitutional

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed a New York federal court’s decision, and struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  DOMA is the federal law which defines marriage as between one man and one woman for federal purposes.

In striking down the law, the Second Circuit applied a heightened scrutiny standard used when a law is found to violate the Constitution’s equal protection clause.

“It is easy to conclude that homosexuals have suffered a history of discrimination,” the court wrote. Thus they are part of what the law refers to as a “quasi-suspect” class that deserves any law restricting its rights to be subjected to such “heightened scrutiny.” Because the law could not pass that test, it is unconstitutional under the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

In the case, Edith Windsor sued the federal government because it failed to recognize her Canadian marriage to Thea Speyer. Speyer died, leaving her estate to Windsor. Normally, inherited property would pass between spouses without the imposition of estate taxes, but, because DOMA prevents recognition of same sex marriages, the estate was assessed $363,000 in estate taxes.

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