A federal judge in Manhattan joined a growing chorus of judges across the country Wednesday by striking down a key component of a federal law denying benefits to partners in a gay marriage.
U.S. District Judge Barbara Jones said the federal Defense of Marriage Act’s efforts to define marriage “intrude upon the states’ business of regulating domestic relations.”
She added that “that incursion skirts important principles of federalism and therefore cannot be legitimate, in this court’s view.”
The judge said the law fails because it tries to re-examine states’ decisions concerning same-gender marriage. She said such a sweeping review interferes with a system of government that places matters at the core of the domestic relations law exclusively within the province of the states.
The ruling came in a case brought by Edith Windsor, a woman whose partner died in 2009, two years after they married each other in Canada. Windsor brought the lawsuit after her late spouse, Thea Spyer, passed her estate to Windsor. Because of the federal law, Windsor did not qualify for the unlimited marital deduction and was required to pay $363,053 in federal estate tax on Spyer’s estate. Windsor sued the government in November 2010.
As part of her ruling, Jones ordered the government to pay Windsor the money she had paid in estate tax.
The government declined to comment through Ellen Davis, a spokeswoman for government attorneys in Manhattan.
Civil rights groups praised the ruling. The American Civil Liberties Union included comments from Windsor in its release.
The ruling came just days after a federal appeals court in Boston found the law’s denial of federal benefits to same-gender couples unconstitutional. The decision by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a federal judge’s 2010 ruling.
The law was passed after a 1993 decision by the Hawaii Supreme Court made it appear Hawaii might legalize gay marriage. Since then, many states have instituted their own bans on gay marriage, while eight states have approved it, led by Massachusetts in 2004 and continuing with Connecticut, New York, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Washington state and the District of Columbia. Maryland and Washington’s laws are not yet in effect and may be subject to referendums.
(Source: Seattle Times)