This case challenges the constitutionality of the "Defense of Marriage Act" (DOMA), a federal statute that defines marriage for all federal purposes as a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife. Plaintiff Edith Windsor who shared her life with her late spouse, Thea Spyer, for 44 years, filed the lawsuit against the federal government on Nov. 9, 2010 for refusing to recognize their marriage. Windsor and Spyer were married in Canada in 2007, and were considered married by their home state of New York. Spyer died in 2009. Due to DOMA's discriminatory policies, Windsor was not able to claim the estate tax marital deduction that is available when the surviving spouse is of the opposite sex.
The lawsuit seeks to have section 3 of DOMA declared unconstitutional and to obtain a refund of the federal estate tax that Windsor was forced to pay following her spouse's death. The lawsuit was filed with the assistance of the ACLU, NYCLU, and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP. Windsor was the sole beneficiary of Spyer's estate. Because they were married, Spyer's estate normally would have passed to her spouse without any tax. But because DOMA refuses to recognize otherwise valid marriages of same-sex couples, Spyer's estate had to pay more than $350,000 in federal estate taxes. Earlier this year, Windsor requested a full refund from the government. The IRS rejected that claim, citing DOMA. 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, despite the fact that New York State treats all marriages the same.
In February 2011, 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, 2011, the Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives moved to intervene in the lawsuit and vowed to preserve DOMA. Plaintiff filed a motion for summary judgment on June 24, 2011. In an amicus brief filed on July 26, 2011, New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman asserted that DOMA violates lesbian and gay couples' right to equal protection under the law. On June 6, 2012, U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones ruled that section three of the so-called “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA) unconstitutionally discriminates against married same-sex couples. The ruling joined four other federal courts that have declared DOMA unconstitutional.
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld the lower court on Oct. 18, 2012. The appeals court held that government discrimination against lesbians and gay men is now assumed to be unconstitutional and that DOMA's defenders could not offer any good reason for treating married same-sex couples differently from all other married couples. This is the first federal appeals court decision to decide that government discrimination against gay people gets a more exacting level of judicial review, called “heightened scrutiny.”
On Dec. 7, 2012, the U.S. Supreme Court announced that it would hear the case. Oral argument occurred March 27, 2013. In a landmark decision issued on June 27, 2013, the Supreme Court ruled that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional and that the federal government cannot discriminate against married lesbian and gay couples for the purposes of determining federal benefits and protections. Writing for the 5-4 majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy stated: “The history of DOMA's enactment and its own text demonstrate that interference with the equal dignity of same-sex marriages, a dignity conferred by the States in the exercise of their sovereign power, was more than an incidental effect of the federal statute. It was its essence.”
S.D.N.Y., Index No. 10 CV 8435 (direct)
- The Complaint (PDF)
- Affidavit of Edith Windsor (PDF)
- Memo in Support of Motion for Summary Judgment (PDF)
- Plaintiff's Statement Pursuant to Local Rule 56.1 (PDF)
- Plaintiff's Letter Motion to Compel Discovery Responses (PDF)
- Plaintiff's Reply in Support of Motion to Compel Discovery Responses (PDF)
- BLAG's Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Compel Discovery Responses (PDF)
- Plaintiff's Memo of Law in Support of Motion to Strike Documents (PDF)
- NY AG Schneiderman's Amicus Brief (PDF)
- Plaintiff's Reply Memo in Support of Motion to Strike (PDF)
- BLAG's Opposition to Plaintiff's Motion to Strike (PDF)
- Brief of the United States in Response to Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment and Intervenor's Motion to Dismiss (PDF)
- Affidavit of Lisa Diamond (PDF)
- Reply Memo of Law in Support of Plaintiff's Motion for Summary Judgment (PDF)
- The District Court's Decision (PDF)
- The Second Circuit's Decision (PDF)
- Respondent's Brief to Supreme Court on the Merits (PDF)
- Respondent's Brief to Supreme Court on Jurisdictional Questions (PDF)
- The Supreme Court's Decision (PDF)