New York State Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman has filed court papers in support of 81-year-old Edith “Edie” Windsor’s federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act.

Windsor, who shared her life for 44 years with her late spouse, Thea Spyer, sued the federal government in November 2010 for refusing to recognize their marriage. She brought the lawsuit with the help of the New York Civil Liberties Union, the American Civil Liberties Union, the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP.

“We applaud Attorney General Schneiderman for taking this action in defense of all New York families,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “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.”

In court papers filed on Tuesday, Schneiderman asserts that DOMA violates lesbian and gay couples’ right to equal protection under the law.

“The state of New York should be commended for standing up for fairness and dignity for all families by opposing the so-called Defense of Marriage Act,” said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay
Bisexual and Transgender Project. “Congress must now do the right thing and pass the Respect for Marriage Act, repealing this outdated and mean-spirited law once and for all. Married couples like Edie and Thea, who cared for each other for over four decades, should not be excluded from the federal protections that all other married couples receive.”

Windsor and Spyer were married in Canada in 2007, and were considered married by their home state of New York. After Spyer died in 2009, DOMA’s discriminatory policies prohibited Windsor from claiming the estate tax marital deduction that is available when the surviving spouse is of the opposite sex. As a result, she was forced to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes.

In February, the Obama administration announced that the president had concluded that a key section of the DOMA is unconstitutional and that the administration would no longer defend the law in litigation challenging the statute. On April 18, 2011, the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives moved to intervene in the lawsuit and vowed to preserve DOMA.