Widow Fights To Have Same-Sex Marriage Recognized By Gov't
A widow hit with a hefty tax bill because her same-sex marriage is not recognized by the federal government was back in court Thursday, when a federal panel of three judges heard arguments in the case. NY1's Grace Rauh filed the following report.
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Edie Windsor is an 83-year-old widow. When her spouse died in 2009, Windsor was left with a $363,000 estate tax bill from the federal government. That's because Windsor was married to a woman and the federal government does not recognize same-sex marriages.
"I look forward to the day when the federal government recognizes all marriages as legal," Windsor said. "And I'm very hopeful that that day will come while I am still alive."
Windsor's lawyer is arguing that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, is unconstitutional. The case is before a three-judge panel on the Second Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. In June, a federal judge ruled in favor of Windsor when she said the act, known as DOMA, was unconstitutional.
"In the last few years, virtually every case that's addressed the issue has struck down DOMA," said Roberta Kaplan, Windsor's attorney.
The act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996. But last year, the Obama administration announced it would no longer fight legal challenges to the act. Republicans from the House of Representatives retained their own lawyer to defend the law.
DOMA does not block individual states, like New York, from legalizing same-sex marriage. But it does prevent federal marriage benefits from being given to same-sex couples.
Windsor, who was married in Canada in 2007, has turned into a public face of the gay rights movement. It is a role she seems to be relishing.
"I was just on a cruise with a lot of lesbians and I was like their hero because of this," she said. "And I felt wonderful."
Ultimately, the fight over the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act may be decided by the Supreme Court. Edie Windsor says a win there would not only mean she gets her money back, she predicts it would have a seismic impact on America.
"I think it will be the beginning of the end of stigma," she said. "It's like a banner saying they're OK."
There is no telling when the judges will issue a decision. But Windsor will be waiting.