A federal appeals court has ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional in a 2-to-1 ruling.
Background on the case. A couple was married in Canada and then lived in New York, which recognizes same-sex marriage.
When the plaintiff’s spouse died, the plaintiff, as executor, was required to pay estate taxes on property left to her by her spouse. Heterosexual married couples are exempt from these taxes under the unlimited marital deduction. However, the exemption does not apply to same-sex couples because of DOMA.
The case went to the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. The court found that Congress did not have a sufficient federal interest to deny marriage benefits to same-sex couples.
The court ruled that DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution and ordered the IRS to refund federal estate taxes paid by the surviving spouse of a same-sex marriage.
The decision was appealed to the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals.
2nd Circuit Court of Appeals ruling. The 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the ruling, concluding that Section 3 of DOMA—which defines the words “marriage” and “spouse” in a way that bars the IRS from recognizing the plaintiff as a spouse or the couple as married—violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional.
Earlier this year, the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a federal district court ruling that DOMA violates the equal protection rights of same-sex couples.