The Columbia Law School Sexuality & Gender Law Clinic responded to the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision today to hear United States v. Windsor, a constitutional challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, and Perry v. Brown, a challenge to Proposition 8, California’s voter-approved ban on same-sex marriage.
“The Court can now write DOMA’s last chapter and put a stop to the federal government’s most explicitly antigay law,” said Suzanne B. Goldberg, Director of the Clinic and of the Law School’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law and Doris and Herbert Wechsler Clinical Professor of Law. The Clinic filed an amicus brief in Windsor when the case was before the Second Circuit federal appeals court.
“We are at a major tipping point in the arc of lesbian and gay civil rights,” Goldberg added. “Congress passed DOMA amidst anger and fear about what might happen if same-sex couples married. But gay and lesbian couples have been marrying in the U.S. for nearly a decade and there is simply no legitimate reason for the United States to disregard their legally valid marriages, as many federal courts have already recognized.”
Goldberg, whose Clinic also filed an amicus brief in the Perry case, added, “Perry presents an important opportunity for the Court to end marriage discrimination by the states, especially in California, where Proposition 8 took the extra step of stripping marriage rights away from same-sex couples.”
In the Windsor case, the U.S. refused to recognize Edie Windsor’s marriage to Thea Speyer because of DOMA and, when Thea died, sent Edie a $300,000+ tax bill. If the couple’s marriage had been recognized, Windsor would not have faced any taxes on the estate because of the tax code’s marital exemption. The case is a particularly compelling one as the two women had been a couple for 42 years, from the early 1960s through Speyer’s death in 2009, in a relationship so committed and moving that it became the subject of a widely acclaimed documentary, Edie and Thea.
“With these two cases the Supreme Court can establish and solidify the constitutional standing of lesbian and gay people,” said Katherine Franke, Sulzbacher Professor of Law and Director of Columbia’s Center for Gender & Sexuality Law. “The time has come for the Court to repudiate the second class citizenship of lesbian and gay people.”