The US Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit [official website] on Thursday heard oral arguments [ACLU press release] in a challenge to the provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive] that defines marriage as between a man and a woman for federal purposes. The case is being heard on appeal after Edith Schlain Windsor, 83, successfully sued the US government [complaint, PDF] in June. The US District court for the Southern District of New York [official website] ruled on summary judgment that under a rational basis standard [Cornell LII backgrounder] of judicial scrutiny, DOMA is unconstitutional [JURIST report]. In arguments on Thursday, lawyers for Windsor argued that DOMA, in barring recognition of Windsor's marriage to her same-sex spouse, unconstitutionally forced her to pay thousands of dollars in estate taxes that legally recognized spouses are not required to pay. Windsor's lawyers in July also petitioned the Supreme Court to expedite her DOMA challenge [JURIST report] and bypass the Second Circuit appeal.
This is the most recent development in the ongoing same-sex marriage [JURIST backgrounder] debate. Earlier this month the US Department of Justice filed petitions in the US Supreme Court asking it to consider two additional challenges to DOMA [JURIST report], including Windsor's case. Days earlier, several groups joined Windsor's challenge [JURIST report] to the legislation. In July a lesbian couple filed a lawsuit in the US District Court for the Central District of California in a DOMA challenge that seeks to achieve for gay and lesbian couples the same federal immigration rights afforded to heterosexual couples [JURIST report] under the Immigration and Nationality Act [materials] In addition, JURIST has published two editorials related to DOMA last month. The first focuses the potential constitutional flaws of DOMA [JURIST comment] and the second discusses the deeper federalism issues that are contained in the law [JURIST op-ed].