by Mike Andrew -
SGN Staff Writer
'Today, we asked the United States Supreme Court to review the ACLU's challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act on behalf of Edie Windsor,' the American Civil Liberties Union said in a statement issued July 16.
Windsor sued the government in 2010, claiming that the death of her partner of more than 40 years forced her to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes that she would not have had to pay had the two been a straight married couple.
She and her partner, Thea Spyer, were legally married in Canada in 2007, after living together for four decades. The couple lived in New York, which accorded legal recognition to their out-of-country marriage. Because of DOMA, however, the federal government did not recognize their union, and held Windsor liable for federal estate taxes when Spyer died.
On June 6, Federal District Judge Barbara Jones ruled that Windsor had been deprived of her constitutional right to equal protection because there is no 'rational basis' to deprive Lesbian and Gay couples of the rights enjoyed by opposite-sex married couples.
On June 13, Jones's ruling was appealed by BLAG (the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group), the group formed by Republican House Speaker John Boehner to defend DOMA in court after the Obama administration declined to do so.
Normally, the case - known as Windsor v. United States - would next be heard by a panel of judges from the Second U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The ACLU petition asking the Supreme Court to take the case would bypass the Second Circuit.
'Asking for Supreme Court review now, even before the federal appeals court decides Edie's case, is unusual,' the ACLU acknowledged in its statement.
'In the vast majority of cases, the Supreme Court won't take a case until there is a federal appellate decision, but in rare circumstances, it can reach down into lower courts and pluck cases for earlier review.'
Roberta Kaplan, Windsor's lawyer, said the July 16 petition to speed the lawsuit's movement through the courts was due in part to her client's age and health.
'Edie and Thea were together for more than four decades and truly lived the words 'in sickness and in health, until death do us part,' Kaplan said in a Huffington Post interview.
'Edie, who just turned 83, suffers from a chronic heart condition. The constitutional injury inflicted on Edie should be remedied within her lifetime.'
Windsor and the ACLU are not alone in asking the Supreme Court to review DOMA. On July 3, the U.S. Department of Justice petitioned the Supreme Court to bypass the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and hear Golinski v. OPM, another case challenging DOMA.
In Golinski, a suit brought by Lambda Legal, a federal employee is challenging DOMA on the grounds that the law prevents her from enrolling her same-sex spouse in a long-term care plan offered by a public employee retirement program.
In a third case - Gill v. OPM, brought by GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders) - the First Circuit has already upheld a lower court's ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional, and BLAG has appealed to the Supreme Court. Like the Golinski case, Gill involves federal benefits that are routinely granted to opposite sex-couples but denied to same-sex couples.
'There are now over 130,000 married same-sex couples in the United States,' the ACLU says. 'DOMA harms each of those couples in a wide variety of ways, since it treats them as unmarried in each of the 1,138 different contexts in which federal statutes determine protections or obligations based on marriage.'
The Supreme Court is not legally required to hear any of the DOMA cases. It accepts a case for review only when at least four of the nine justices vote to do so. Most appeals to the Supreme Court are rejected without being heard.
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