NY appeals court nixes Defense of Marriage Act

Legal Insight Posted on

Saying the gay population has "suffered a history of discrimination,"
a divided federal appeals court in Manhattan ruled Thursday that a
federal law defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman was
unconstitutional, adding fuel to an issue expected to reach the U.S.
Supreme Court soon.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals seemed interested in adding its
voice to several other rulings already at the high court's doorstep by
issuing its 2-to-1 decision only three weeks after hearing arguments
on a lower court judge's findings that the 1996 law was

In a majority opinion written by Judge Dennis Jacobs, the 2nd Circuit,
like a federal appeals court in Boston before it, found no reason the
Defense of Marriage Act could be used to deny benefits to married gay
couples. It supported a lower court ruling after a woman sued the
government in 2010, saying the law required her to pay $363,053 in
federal estate tax after her partner of 44 years died.

Jacobs, though, went beyond the Boston court, saying discrimination
against gays should be scrutinized by the courts in the same
heightened way as discrimination faced by women was in the 1970s. At
the time, he noted, they faced widespread discrimination in the
workplace and elsewhere. The heightened scrutiny, as it is referred to
in legal circles, would mean government discrimination against gays
would be assumed to be unconstitutional.

"The question is not whether homosexuals have achieved political
successes over the years; they clearly have. The question is whether
they have the strength to politically protect themselves from wrongful
discrimination," said Jacobs, who was appointed to the bench in 1992
by President George H.W. Bush.

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