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November 19, 2010

Two new cases challenge federal anti-marriage act

New York City--Two new challenges are in the offing against the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal recognition to same-sex couples.

One of the suits is being filed by Gay and Lesbians Advocates and Defenders, the other by the American Civil Liberties Union. Plaintiffs in the case come from New York, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire, which either offer same-sex marriage or, in the case of New York, recognize those that are performed in other jurisdictions.

The ACLU suit was filed on behalf of Edith Windsor, whose wife, Thea C. Spyer, died in 2009. They married in Toronto in 2007, after being together for 42 years.

Because the federal government, unlike that of the home state of New York, does not recognize their marriage, the 81-year-old Windsor had to pay $350,000 in estate taxes, which would have been avoided had they been an opposite-sex married couple.

“After Thea died, the fact that the federal government refused to recognize our marriage was devastating,” she said. “In the midst of my grief at the loss of the love of my life, I had to deal with my own government saying that we weren’t a family.”

The GLAD case involves Joanne Pedersen and Ann Meitzen, who were married in Connecticut. Pedersen has tried repeatedly to add Meitzen to her federal health insurance, which would happen almost automatically for opposite-sex married couples, but they were denied.

To replace the benefits costs hundreds of dollars a month for the couple.

While the federal government has previously recognized states’ decisions on marriage, DOMA undermines that historical precept.

“The federal government has respected those determinations, except in the case of gay and lesbian couples marrying,” Mary Bonauto of GLAD told the New York Times.

The two suits build on a pair of Massachusetts cases earlier this year, in which a federal judge ruled that DOMA was unconstitutional. The Obama administration’s Justice Department is appealing that ruling, despite the president’s stated opposition to the law.

The new suits argue that there is a clear violation of the constitutional guarantees of equal protection.

“No one should have to fight with the government after losing the person she’s loved for than four decades,” said Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union. “Edie and Thea made the same lifelong commitment that other married couples make, and their marriage deserves the same dignity, respect and protection afforded other families.

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