States Back Challenge to Federal Law on Marriage

By: - September 10, 2012 12:00 am

Three states say that the federal law failing to recognize same-sex marriages considered legal within their borders violates the U.S. Constitution.

The states — Connecticut, New York and Vermont — said so in an amicus brief filed Friday (September 7) in support of a lesbian widow in New York who was made to pay $350,000 in federal taxes to inherit her wife’s estate.

Had Edie Windsor been married to a man, she could have inherited the husband’s estate untaxed. But the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), enacted in 1996, defines marriage as only between a man and a woman, denying such benefits to same-sex partners, including those whose marriages are recognized in some states.

The law, the states argue in New York’s Second Circuit Court of Appeals, essentially “un-marries” couples, violating their rights and those of states choosing to recognize the marriages.  

“The only interest served by section 3 of DOMA is the utterly illegitimate one of stigmatizing same-sex marriages with second-class status and denying lawfully married couples the equality amici States have sought to confer,” the states wrote. “DOMA not only discriminates against people, but also discriminates among the States, in a way that intrudes on the States’ long-standing authority to regulate marriage and family relations.”

Announcing the filing, Vermont Attorney General Sorrell said married same-sex couples “have every right to fair and equal treatment by the federal government. Instead, they are denied Social Security benefits, tax exemptions, and health and retirement benefits.”

As the Christian Science Monitor notes, several pieces of DOMA have been struck down in state and federal courts. A federal appeals court in Boston called the rule on partner benefits discriminatory, saying it has a “disparate impact on minority interests and federalism concerns.” But the court did not rule on whether gay marriages must be recognized in states that don’t allow couples to marry.

The House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group is defending the federal law, the Monitor reports. That’s after President Obama announced last year he would no longer do so.

Six states along with the District of Columbia recognize same-sex marriages. Governors in Maryland and Washington signed legislation earlier this year to join those states, but opponents gathered enough signatures to force a vote on the issue this November.

Mainers will also vote on the question this November, while voters in Minnesota will decide whether to enact a constitutional ban on same-sex marriage, a decision North Carolina made in May.

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