Second Circuit Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act
On Thursday, a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit was the latest to issue a ruling on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Over a strong dissent by one of the judges, it ruled that section 3 violates equal protection and thus is unconstitutional.
Section 3 defines “marriage” for the purpose of federal law as a “legal union between one man and one woman” and “spouse” as referring “only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.” The challenge in Windsor v. United States was brought by a surviving spouse of a same-sex couple, married in Canada and residing in New York, who was denied the benefit of a spousal deduction under federal tax law.
This case is one of about half a dozen challenges in which the federal government originally defended the constitutionality of DOMA, which was passed by large majorities in both houses and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996. Following an announcement by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2011 that the Administration would no longer defend DOMA, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives hired special counsel to defend the statute in court.