The court held, with two judges in the majority and one in dissent, that the federal government’s discrimination against same-sex couples’ marriages could not be justified under intermediate-level scrutiny by the court. In particular, the court rejected arguments that government interests in conserving resources, preserving uniformity in marriage-recognition practices, or encouraging procreation among heterosexuals could justify DOMA’s discrimination against gay and lesbian married couples.
The Clinic’s brief to the court had argued that these interests could not justify the Defense of Marriage act under any level of judicial review.
The court’s decision came in the case of Windsor v. United States. Edie Windsor, the plaintiff, first met her spouse, Thea Speyer, in 1963; the couple was engaged in 1967. Forty years later, they legally married in Toronto. After Speyer died in 2009, leaving her estate to Windsor, the United States sent Windsor a tax bill for more than $363,000. If the couple’s marriage had been recognized, Windsor would not have faced any taxes on the estate because of the tax code’s marital exemption.
“Today’s decision joins a landslide of other federal court rulings striking down the Defense of Marriage Act,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic. “The Court rightly found that the government has no good reason for promoting marriages of heterosexuals at the expense of gay people’s equality rights.” She added: “As the Court recognized, the federal government may not treat Edie’s marriage as though it did not exist, especially when her home state – New York –recognizes same-sex couples’ marriages.”
In this case, as in other suits now challenging DOMA, the Obama administration has agreed with many of the plaintiff’s legal arguments and has taken the position that DOMA is unconstitutional. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, a group comprised of five leaders of the House of Representatives, has stepped in to defend DOMA, over the objections of two of the group’s five members.
Windsor is represented by the ACLU, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.
Columbia Law School’s Sexuality and Gender Law Clinic addresses cutting-edge issues in sexuality and gender law through litigation, legislation, public policy analysis and other forms of advocacy. Under the guidance of Professor Suzanne Goldberg, clinic students have worked on a wide range of projects, from constitutional litigation to legislative advocacy to immigration cases, to serve both individual and organizational clients in cases involving issues of sexuality and gender law.
Columbia Law School, founded in 1858, stands at the forefront of legal education and of the law in a global society. Columbia Law School combines traditional strengths in corporate law and financial regulation, international and comparative law, property, contracts, constitutional law, and administrative law with pioneering work in intellectual property, digital technology, tax law and policy, national security, human rights, sexuality and gender, and environmental law.