WASHINGTON - Opening the door to a potentially historic step in the nation's gay rights movement, the U.S. Supreme Court on Dec. 10 agreed to decide two constitutional challenges involving same-sex ?marriage.
The justices will review a decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit holding unconstitutional a section of the Defense of Marriage Act that defines marriage, for federal government purposes, as exclusively a union between one man and one woman (NYLJ, Oct. 19).
The challenge to DOMA was brought by Edith Windsor, an 83-year-old New Yorker who was forced to pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes after the death of Thea Seyer, whom she had married in Canada.
Windsor would not have had to pay any estate taxes if their marriage had been treated the same way as heterosexual couples.
The news was welcomed by lawyers for Windsor who successfully argued her case, first before Southern District Judge Barbara Jones (See Profile) and then before the Second Circuit: Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison and James Esseks of the American Civil Liberties Union.
Kaplan, who will argue Windsor's case at the Supreme Court in Marchher first argument before the high courtsaid her client was "clearly thrilled."
"She's had a long fight," said Kaplan. "She's been fighting for this for over half a lifetime" of "living with discrimination."
"When Thea and I met nearly 50 years ago, we never could have dreamed that the story of our life together would be before the Supreme Court as an example of why gay married couples should be treated equally, and not like second-class citizens," Windsor said in a statement issued by the ACLU. "While Thea is no longer alive, I know how proud she would have been to see this day. The truth is, I never expected any less from my country."
The second case accepted by the court is Hollingsworth v. Perry, which asks whether the Constitution's Fourteenth Amendment bars California from defining marriage as between one man and one woman.
The California case involves a challenge to Proposition 8, a ballot proposition that ended same-sex marriage after the California Supreme Court had recognized it.