NY Backs Federal Challenge to DOMA

Attorney General files friend-of-the-court brief in Windsor case

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has filed an amicus brief in Windsor v. United States, the federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Arguing that DOMA discriminates against same-sex couples and intrudes upon the states’ right to govern marriage laws, Schneiderman filed the papers Tuesday at the U.S. District Court in New York.

DOMA, passed in 1996, defined marriage for all federal purposes as the union of one man and one woman, and excluded same-sex couples from access to federal benefits accorded to heterosexual couples.

Saying that DOMA “does not advance any legitimate federal interest,” Schneiderman claimed that DOMA violates same-sex couples’ right to equal protection under the law as required by the U.S. Constitution.

“Without such equal treatment by the federal government, New York’s statutory commitment to marriage equality for all married couples will be substantially unrealized,” Schneiderman wrote. “By discriminating among couples based on sexual orientation and sex, DOMA deprives New York of the ability to extend true equality to all marriages valid in the State.”

The Williams Institute at UCLA estimates, based on U.S. Census data, that more than 6,500 same-sex couples live in New York and could be affected by DOMA.

Schneiderman filed the papers in support of the plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment in the case of Windsor v. United States. The plaintiff, Edie Windsor, was married in Canada in 2007 to her partner of more than 40 years, Thea Spyer, who died two years later. Following Spyer’s death, the federal government refused to acknowledge the couple’s marriage under DOMA and taxed the resulting inheritance accordingly. Windsor then filed suit, challenging the constitutionality of DOMA and seeking a refund of the estate taxes she was forced to pay as a result of the federal government’s refusal to recognize her marriage.


“We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for taking this action in defense of all New York families,” said Donna Lieberman, Executive Director of the NYCLU, which is handling the case with the ACLU and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. “While gay and lesbian New Yorkers now have the freedom to marry, their rights will not be fully secure until the federal government recognizes the relationships of all couples married in New York.”

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