Another Court Strikes Down DOMA

by Linda Beale

Another Court Strikes Down DOMA

The Second Circuit ruled on Thursday on the estate tax case involving the legality of DOMA–Windsor v. United States (or in the long form–Windsor, executor of the Estate of Spyer, v. United States).  Readers may recall this as a case in which a group of members of the House of Representatives intervened when the Obama administration announced that it would no longer defend DOMA in court.  The surviving spouse of a same-sex couple was denied the marital deduction, and the trial court (Southern District of New York) reached summary judgement in her favor.  The Second Circuit affirmed the decision, concluding that DOMA is an unconstitutional violation of the Equal Protection Clause.

The court first concluded that homosexuals are a discrete and insular minority that is entitled to heightened scrutiny.  Turning to the rationales suggested by the Congressional intervenors to support the law, the court rejected each of them in turn, as follows:

1) Argument that DOMA is valid as a way of achieving uniformity in marriage law for federal purposes:
Because DOMA is an unprecedented breach of longstanding deference to federalism that singles out same-sex marriage as the only inconsistency (among many) in state law that requires a federal rule to achieve uniformity, the rationale premised on uniformity is not an exceedingly persuasive justification for DOMA. Id. at 38.

2) Argument that DOMA is valid as a way of protecting the federal fisc by preventing the extension of government marriage benefits to a certain group:
DOMA is properly considered a benefit withdrawal in the sense that it functionally eliminated longstanding federal recognition of all marriages that are properly ratified under state law–and the federal benefits (and detriments) that come with that recognition. Furthermore, DOMA is so broad, touching more than a thousand federal laws, that it is not substantially related to fiscal matters. Id. at 39.

3)Argument that DOMA is valid as a way of preserving a traditional understanding of the institution of marriage:
Quoting Heller (509 U.S. at 326), the court notes that “ancient lineage of a legal concept does not give a law immunity from attack for lacking a rational basis,” nor does tradition satisfy “the more demanding test of having a substantial relation to an important government interest. Similar appeals to tradition were made and rejected in litigation concerning anti-sodomy laws . . . [and] neither history nor tradition could save a law prohibiting miscegenation from constitutional attack.”  Id. at 40.

4) Argument that DOMA is valid as a means of encouraging responsible procreation:
The court finds DOMA insufficiently related to the goals stated by the intervenors–that DOMA encourages “natural” procreation, “biological parenting” and “optimal parenting by a mother and father”.  These are incentives for heterosexuals to marry, which were the same before and after DOMA was enacted.  Courts have been “unable to find even a rational connection between DOMA and encouragement of responsible procreation and child-rearing.”  Id. at 42

cross posted with ataxingmatter