July 16 (Reuters) - An 83-year-old lesbian asked the Supreme
Court on Monday to hear her legal challenge against a federal
law that defines marriage as a union between a man and woman,
contending it denies equal protection for married same-sex
The suit, filed by Edith Schlain Windsor in 2010, targets
the Defense of Marriage Act, a law passed by the U.S. Congress
in 1996 that denies federal benefits to lawfully married
Windsor's petition attempts to place her case on the fast
track to the Supreme Court by bypassing the U.S. Court of
Appeals for the 2nd Circuit, which is slated to hear the case in
September. With Windsor's filing there are currently three
petitions pending before the Supreme Court over the
constitutionality of DOMA, an issue the high court could take up
in oral arguments as early as next spring, said Windsor's
lawyer, Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton &
"This case presents a question of exceptional national
importance: the constitutionality of a statute, the Defense of
Marriage Act ('DOMA'), that daily affects the lives of thousands
of Americans," the petition said.
The American Civil Liberties Union originally filed the suit
in New York on behalf of Windsor, a former IBM computer
programmer who married her late spouse, Thea Clara Spyer, in
Toronto, Canada, in 2007. The two were engaged in 1967.
Spyer died in 2009 after a decades-long battle with multiple
sclerosis, leaving all of her property to Windsor. Because the
marriage was not recognized under federal law, Windsor had to
pay more than $363,000 in federal estate taxes, according to the
Six states have legalized same-sex marriage since DOMA went
into effect, including New York in 2011. But federal law and
programs do not recognize those marriages because of DOMA.
Windsor's attorneys argue that the federal law violates the
14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits states
from denying people equal protection of the laws.
In June, a New York district court ruled in Windsor's favor,
finding that a central DOMA provision discriminates against
married same-sex couples. The case is now on expedited appeal
before the 2nd Circuit. But Windsor's lawyers argue that
premature review of her case by the Supreme Court is warranted,
given that the issue is already before the high court and that
Windsor suffers from a serious heart condition that could end
her life before the case is resolved.
Federal courts in New York, California and Massachusetts
have all found the law unconstitutional for different reasons,
applying varying standards of legal analysis.
The Republican-controlled House of Representatives, through
its Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, is defending the law, which
the Obama administration essentially abandoned in 2011. In June,
lawyers for BLAG asked the Supreme Court to review a recent
decision from the 1st Circuit in Massachusetts v. Department of
Health and Human Services, which found the law unconstitutional.
The Justice Department has also asked the high court to review
another DOMA challenge that's currently pending in the 9th
Circuit, Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management.
Paul Clement, a lawyer for BLAG, did not immediately respond
to a request for comment on Windsor's petition.
The case before the 2nd Circuit is Windsor v. USA et al, No.
For Windsor: Roberta Kaplan of Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton
For the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group: Paul Clement of
(Reporting By Terry Baynes)
Follow us on Twitter @ReutersLegal | Like us on Facebook