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Thea Spyer and Edith Windsor met in New York City in the 1960s, fell in love and lived together as partners until they married in Canada in 2007. Thea died in 2009 and willed her estate to her wife.

New York recognized Edie and Thea’s marriage, but because of the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, the federal government has refused to treat married same-sex couples like other married couples.

Under federal law, estates inherited by the surviving spouse are not subject to the estate tax. Because of DOMA, the federal government required Edith to pay an estate tax of $363,053 — the “gay tax,” Edie Windsor calls it — upon inheriting her partner’s wealth.

“Thea and I shared our lives together for 44 years, and I miss her each and every day,” said Windsor. “It’s thrilling to have a court finally recognize how unfair it is for the government to have treated us as though we were strangers.”

The district court had ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional on June 6, 2012. After oral argument in September, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act today as unconstitutional and a violation of the equal protection clause of the Constitution in a 2-1 decision.

The court decided that when government discriminates against lesbians and gay men, the discrimination should be presumed to be unconstitutional and the government has to have a very good reason for the discrimination. According to the ACLU, this is the first federal appeals court to decide that a higher standard of review applies to sexual orientation discrimination.

As the court also noted, attorneys hired by House Republicans to defend the law had argued in court that the government did indeed have legitimate interests, among them “the encouragement of ‘responsible’ procreation” and the preservation of traditional marriage.
The court did not find such arguments convincing. As the ruling pointed out, “Incentives for opposite-sex couples to marry and procreate (or not) were the same after DOMA was enacted as they were before.”

Four DOMA challenges, including Windsor, have been petitioned for review by the Supreme Court. The ruling from Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, who was appointed by President George H. W. Bush, is another win for marriage equality advocates and another loss for the House Republicans in their effort to defend DOMA in court.

Here is the decision: windsor decision 10.18.12

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