Edith Windsor and New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (Photo: Scott J. Ferrell/Getty)
What do you call it when a notoriously conservative judge strikes down the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court? Justice, actually. And it’s exactly what happened earlier this afternoon when two of the three judges on New York’s 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals — including Republican-appointed Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs — ruled in favor of plaintiff Edith Windsor, stating: “[W]e conclude that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional.”
Windsor is an 83-year-old lesbian who married her partner, Thea Spyer, in Canada in 2007, 40 years after the two fell in love. Spyer passed away in 2009, but because their marriage wasn’t recognized on the federal level in the United States, Windsor was hit up with almost $400,000 in estate tax. (If they’d been straight, their marriage would have been legal, and therefore the tax would have been waived.)
President Obama’s administration stopped defending DOMA, which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman on a federal level, earlier this year. So Congressional Republicans appointed lawyers to defend the 2nd Circuit case. But they were foiled by, you know, the law. The court not only ruled in favor of Windsor; they also invoked “heightened scrutiny,” which means they believe gay people fall under the Supreme Court’s protection of a “quasi-suspect class.” Think Progress’ assessment of the victory packs quite a punch:
If Jacobs’ reasoning is adopted by the Supreme Court, it will be a sweeping victory for gay rights, likely causing state discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation to be virtually eliminated. And the fact that this decision came from such a conservative judge makes it all the more likely that DOMA will ultimately be struck down by the Supreme Court.
If you want to celebrate with tears, check out this marriage equality video produced by ACLU. It tells the story of Edith and Thea.
Windsor’s victory follows a similar decision from a Boston court of appeals earlier this year and practically ensures that DOMA will reach the steps of the Supreme Court by the end of the year.