A federal judge in Manhattan has joined judges in California and Boston to rule the anti-equality Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.
The Defense of Marriage Act, passed under the Clinton administration in 1996, when Hawaii Supreme Court seemed on the verge of legalising equal marriage, denies gay spouses Social Security survivor benefits, the ability to file joint tax returns and health insurance rights enjoyed by straight married couples.
Just a week ago, a federal appeals court in Boston upheld an earlier ruling strike down key aspects of the federal law on the grounds of federal constitution. Earlier in May, a district court judge in California became the third federal judge to also declare DOMA unconstitutional along similar lines.
On Friday, US District Judge Barbara Jones ruled that DOMA’s efforts to define marriage intruded ‘upon the states’ business of regulating domestic relations,’ adding: “That incursion skirts important principles of federalism and therefore cannot be legitimate, in this court’s view.”
She added that a sweeping legislation such as DOMA interfered with a federal system that put domestic relations law exclusively within the terrain of state legislatures.
The case was brought forth by Edith Windsor, whose partner died in 2009, two years after they married in Canada. Because of DOMA, Ms Windsor could not obtain the unlimited marital deduction on her late wife’s estate, and was required to pay over $350,000 in federal estate tax. She filed her law suit in November 2010, and in her ruling, Judge Jones ordered the government to reimburse Ms Windsor the tax she paid to the federal agency.
Ms Windsor, in a statement through the American Civil Liberties Union, said of her 44-year relationship with Thea Spyer: “”It’s thrilling to have a court finally recognize how unfair it is for the government to have treated us as though we were strangers.’
Although the federal government under Mr Obama no longer defends DOMA, it has yet to release a statement on the matter. That said, New York’s Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman declared the decision to be a ‘major step forward in the fight for equality.’