Marriage Equality New York has honored the New York Civil Liberties Union and the American Civil Liberties Union for bringing a legal challenge against the federal Defense of Marriage Act – a federal statute that defines marriage for all federal purposes as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife.

MENY, a grassroots organization dedicated to achieving fair marriage laws in New York State, presented the NYCLU and the ACLU with a Trailblazer Award at its annual gala on May 19. The law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton and Garrison, co-counsel on the lawsuit and plaintiff Edith “Edie” Windsor were also honored.

“The fight for marriage fairness is a defining civil rights issue of our time,” said NYCLU Executive Director Donna Lieberman. “We’re proud to of our work challenging DOMA at the federal level and advocating for fair marriage laws here in New York State. We’ll keep up the fight until the state Legislature does the right thing and extends to the freedom to marry to gay and lesbian couples.”

The lawsuit, Windsor v. United States, was filed in November 2010 on behalf of Windsor, the surviving spouse of Thea Speyer, her partner of 44 years. The denial of federal marriage benefits cost Windsor untold grief and more than $350,000 in federal taxes, which she would not have been forced to pay had she been married to a man.

The lawsuit argues that DOMA violates the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution because it recognizes marriages of heterosexual couples, but not of same-sex couples. In February, the Obama administration concluded that Section 3 of DOMA -- which bars the federal government from recognizing the legal marriages of same-sex couples -- is unconstitutional and that the U.S. Department of Justice would no longer defend the discriminatory law in court. On April 18, the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives moved to intervene in the lawsuit and vowed to preserve DOMA.