A.G. Schneiderman Applauds Historic U.S. Supreme Court Decision Overturning Defense Of Marriage Act

A.G. Filed Brief On Behalf Of 15 States And D.C. Arguing That DOMA Is Unconstitutional; Supreme Court Agreed

Schneiderman: Today’s DOMA Decision Is A Historic Victory For Equal Justice Under The Law

NEW YORK – Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman today celebrated the decision of the United States Supreme Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. Attorney General Schneiderman filed a friend-of-the-court brief in February on behalf of New York and 14 other states, along with the District of Columbia, in the case of United States v. Windsor arguing that DOMA violates same-sex couples’ right to equal protection under the law as required by the U.S. Constitution and represents an unprecedented intrusion on the authority of States to regulate marriage and promote equality for their citizens. Today the Supreme Court adopted that view.

“The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act is a historic victory for the quintessentially American principle of equal justice under the law,” Attorney General Eric Schneiderman said. “Gay and lesbian Americans and their families have not only gained legal rights; but shed the unjust stigma that comes with being victims of legally sanctioned discrimination. Our nation has moved one step closer to fulfilling our founding ideals, and I am proud that New York was on the right side of history in this case.”

The case was brought by New York resident Edie Windsor, who was married in Canada in 2007 to her partner, Thea Spyer, who died two years later. Following Spyer’s death, the federal government, under DOMA, ignored the couple's marriage, and denied Windsor the estate tax exemption available to surviving spouses. Windsor filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of DOMA and seeking a refund of the estate taxes she was forced to pay as a result of the federal government’s refusal to recognize her marriage.

A federal district court in New York held that DOMA was unconstitutional because it serves no legitimate government interest, and the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed that ruling. The Second Circuit held that DOMA is subject to intermediate scrutiny because it discriminates based on sexual orientation, and that Congress could not justify DOMA with a sufficiently strong federal interest to pass constitutional muster. The Second Circuit adopted New York’s argument that DOMA’s intrusion into the realm of state regulation was cause “to look upon Section 3 of DOMA with a cold eye.”

In the States’ brief, Attorney General Schneiderman argued that in rejecting same-sex marriages, Section 3 of DOMA violates the equal protection component of the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause, and must therefore be invalidated. He argued that the statute improperly intrudes on the traditional role of states in regulating marriage and domestic relations generally; that it consequently must be subjected to skeptical scrutiny; and that it fails any level of scrutiny because it does not rationally advance any legitimate federal interest.

In a separate case affecting the marriage rights of same sex couples, Hollingsworth v. Perry, the Supreme Court dismissed the case for lack of standing, and did not rule on the merits of the case. That case concerned a California ballot proposition banning same sex marriage, known as Proposition 8. In that case, a federal district court in California ruled that Proposition 8 violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the United States Constitution, and the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit affirmed that ruling. As a result of the Supreme Court’s dismissal, the district court decision striking down Proposition 8 remains the law, and it appears that same sex marriage again becomes legal in California. In February, Attorney General Schneiderman joined a friend-of-the-court brief filed by Massachusetts and joined by 12 other States, urging the Supreme Court to hold that Proposition 8 is unconstitutional.

“It appears that Proposition 8 is dead and millions of Californians will once again enjoy the rights and responsibilities of marriage equality,” Attorney General Schneiderman said. “While we did not win the fight to overturn state bans on gay marriage today, I am confident the day will come when gay and lesbian couples will enjoy equality under the law in every state in our union.”

The brief in the case of United States v. Windsor was prepared by New York Solicitor General Barbara D. Underwood, Deputy Solicitor General Cecelia C. Chang, and Assistant Solicitors General Andrew W. Amend and Mark H. Shawhan, as well as Massachusetts Assistant Attorneys General Maura T. Healey, Jonathan B. Miller, and Joshua D. Jacobson.