Edie and Thea had been together for more than 44 years; they became one of the first registered domestic partners of New York; and as Thea’s health began failing dramatically, the couple legally married each other in Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
When Thea died a few years after their lifelong relationship and marriage, the federal government refused to recognize their marriage and taxed Edie’s inheritance from Thea as though they were strangers. Under federal tax law, a spouse who dies can leave her assets, including the family home, to the other spouse without incurring estate taxes.
Ordinarily, whether a couple is married for federal purposes depends on whether they are considered married in their state. New York recognized Edie and Thea’s marriage, but because of the so-called the “Defense of Marriage Act,” or DOMA, the federal government refuses to treat married same-sex couples, like Edie and Thea, the same way as other married couples.
After spending decades together, including many years during which Edie helped Thea through her long battle with multiple sclerosis, it was devastating to Edie that the federal government refused to recognize their marriage, their loving and solemnized dedication to each other.
With representation by the American Civil Liberties Union, the New York Civil Liberties Union, and the law firm of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP, Edie challenged the constitutionality of DOMA and seeking a refund of the estate tax she was unfairly forced to pay. Edie alleged that DOMA violates the Equal Protection principles of the U.S. Constitution because it recognizes existing marriages of heterosexual couples, but not of same-sex couples, despite the fact that New York State treats all marriages the same.
On June 6, 2012, Judge Barbara Jones ruled for Edie and against the IRS, stating that Section 3 of DOMA as it applies to legally married same-sex couples for purposes of estate taxation is unconstitutional.
Though this isn’t a Supreme Court ruling and, therefore only persuasive outside of NY, it is a large and critical step in the undoing of DOMA.
The Love & the Law Episodes: Brief Case History | Contraceptives | The Color of Love | The IRS v. NY |
Privacy? No. Sex? No. History? No. Liberty? Yep. Pt 1 | Privacy? No. Sex? No. History? No. Liberty? Yep. Pt 2