Sexuality & Gender Clinic Urges Federal Appeals Court to Strike Down Defense of Marriage Act

Files Brief on Behalf of Widow Hit With Huge Tax Bill After Her Spouse Died


New York, Sept. 7, 2012—The Columbia Law School Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic today urged the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) for violating the Constitution’s equality guarantee.
The Clinic’s brief to the court makes clear that under any level of judicial scrutiny, the government must not impose unfair burdens on disfavored groups, including same-sex married couples. 
The Clinic filed the brief 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.
“One of the Constitution’s most significant promises is that government will not single out certain groups for disfavor unless there is a legitimate reason for doing so,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, the Herbert and Doris Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law and Director of the Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic. “Here, there was simply no good reason for refusing to give Edie and Thea’s marriage the same tax treatment it would have given if Edie had been married to a man.”
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. 
For more information, please visit: To contact Goldberg: call (212) 854- 0411 or email [email protected].