Mayor Michael Bloomberg and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn are planning to file a joint amicus brief in support of a constitutional challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The case involves Edie Windsor, a New York City widow who faced a $363,000 federal estate tax liability following the 2009 death of her spouse, Thea Spyer. That liability would not have existed had the federal government recognized the couple’s marriage.
The two women met in 1963 and were legally married in Canada in 2008. Though marriages by same-sex couples were not yet legal in New York State at that time, an appellate court had by then found that the state’s policy on recognition of marriages from other jurisdictions required that marriages such as Windsor and Spyer’s deserved the full force of law.
On June 6, Windsor prevailed in her claim before US District Court Judge Barbara S. Jones.
“We believe that DOMA is unconstitutional because it deprives married gay New Yorkers of equal protection of the laws, and we are filing a brief to support the case against it,” Bloomberg said in a written statement.
“Edie Windsor’s case is a tragic reminder of the work that still needs to be done to extend equality to all people,” said Quinn. “As courts across the country continue to strike down DOMA’s unconstitutional assault on our civil liberties, I’m proud to join Mayor Bloomberg and the chorus of voices that have called to repeal DOMA once and for all.”
Quinn and Bloomberg announced their plans at the mayor’s annual LGBT Pride barbeque at Gracie Mansion on June 20.
Since the Obama Justice Department will no longer defend DOMA, Windsor faced the Bipartisan Advisory Group of the US House of Representatives (BLAG) –– a group controlled by Republican Speaker John Boehner –– in her suit.
The Bloomberg-Quinn amicus brief will be filed for purposes of BLAG’s expected appeal of Judge Jones’ ruling.
A unanimous panel of the Boston-based First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a 2010 district court ruling striking down DOMA in a challenges brought by same-sex couples married in Massachusetts and by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts itself. That ruling makes it likely that DOMA will go before the Supreme Court in the term that begins in October.
The Boston ruling and the decision in Windsor’s case found that the ban on federal recognition of valid marriages by same-sex couples deprives them of the equal protection of the law.
In 2005, Bloomberg appealed a Manhattan judge’s ruling that New York same-sex couples have the right to marry under the State Constitution. In 2006, the Court of Appeals, New York’s highest bench, found that no such constitutional right exists.
In the several years leading up to the 2011 enactment of marriage equality, however, the mayor was a vocal supporter of equal marriage rights and raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the effort.
Windsor is represented by Roberta Kaplan from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, James Esseks, the director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Project, and Melissa Goodman, senior litigation and policy counsel for LGBT rights at the New York Civil Liberties Union.