U.S. Senator Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) has joined forty members of the U.S. Senate and 172 members of the U.S. House of Representatives in filing an amicus brief with the United States Supreme Court in the case of U.S. v. Edith Schlain Windsor, a landmark challenge to Section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA.
Section 3 of DOMA prohibits the federal government from recognizing for purposes of federal law same-sex marriages performed in states where such marriages have been legally recognized.
“I joined my Congressional colleagues in this brief supporting Edie Windsor to make clear my belief that discriminating against gay and lesbian married couples is as a violation of the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law,” said Sen. Heinrich. “I fully support marriage equality and strengthening American families. Gay and lesbian couples who have solidified their life-long commitment to each other deserve the same rights and legal protections as straight married couples.”
In Edith “Edie” Windsor’s case, the federal government taxed Edie more than $363,000 when her spouse, Thea Spyer, passed away in 2009. The couple first met in 1965 and married in 2007, after more than 40 years together. Yet, when Thea died, the federal government treated them as complete strangers because of DOMA, significantly reducing Edie’s inheritance by denying her protections from the estate tax that other married couples receive. Edie, who is now 83 years old, filed a lawsuit challenging DOMA as a violation of her constitutional equal protection rights. The federal district court in New York City and the Second Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in her favor, holding that DOMA violates the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee.
As the Congressional amici point out to the court: “The goal of maximizing the financial well-being and independence of widows is not furthered by depriving Edie Windsor and others like her of the estate-tax exemption that other married Americans receive. The policy of encouraging employers to provide family health benefits is not served either by denying to employers the tax deduction for providing those benefits to married gay and lesbian couples or by refusing to cover spouses of gay and lesbian federal employees. Our national security is undermined by denying spousal benefits to gay and lesbian service members, especially during periods of armed conflict. Our veterans are dishonored when we deny them the right to have their spouses buried alongside them in our national cemeteries.”