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Obama administration urges U.S. Supreme Court to strike down DOMA

'Gay and lesbian people have been subject to a significant history of discrimination in this country'
Friday, February 22, 2013
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The Obama administration on Friday filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court, arguing why it considers the federal Defense of Marriage Act to be unconstitutional.

Filed in United States v. Windsor, a case challenging Section 3 of DOMA, the administration said “gay and lesbian people have been subject to a significant history of discrimination in this country,” and argued that laws targeting individuals based on their sexual orientation should face additional scrutiny by courts reviewing them.

In the brief, Solicitor General Donald Verrilli asked the court to uphold a federal appeals court ruling that found DOMA to be unconstitutional:

Section 3 of DOMA violates the fundamental constitutional guarantee of equal protection. The law denies to tens of thousands of same-sex couples who are legally married under state law an array of important federal benefits that are available to legally married opposite-sex couples. Because this discrimination cannot be justified as substantially furthering any important governmental interest, Section 3 is unconstitutional.

This case deals with Edith Windsor, who was forced to pay $363,000 in estate taxes in 2009 upon the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer. The two had lived as a couple for 44 years and married in Canada in 2007. Because her decades-long partner was a woman, the federal government did not recognize the same-sex marriage in legal terms, even though their home state of New York did.

Section 3 of DOMA, which bars legally married same-sex couples from any federal benefits or programs based on marriage, has been found unconstitutional in eight federal courts, including the First and Second Circuit Court of Appeals, on issues including bankruptcy, public employee benefits, estate taxes, and immigration.

The brief also mentions Proposition 8, California’s ban on same-sex marriage, and similar measures in other states as evidence of continued discrimination against gays and lesbians.

Briefs were also filed on the question of whether the Court has the authority to decide the case — one of those was from the administration and another from Republican leaders of the House of Representatives.

In the separate Administration brief, also filed Friday in the Windsor case, the government’s lawyers argued that their appeal challenging the constitutionality of DOMA is properly before the Court, and thus can be decided in that case, reported SCOTUS Blog.

In the other brief, GOP members of the House’s Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group argued that it has a right under the Constitution’s Article III to be in court to support the law’s validity, because the administration has stopped defending the law and instead is “attacking” it.

Oral arguments in the case, United States v. Windsor, have been scheduled for March 27.

Earlier this week, the Obama administration was said to also be considering urging the Court to overturn Proposition 8, but has yet to take a position in that case. The Court will hear arguments in that case on March 26.

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