United States v. Windsor

Last modified 2013.06.08

  • Status Closed
  • Type Amicus
  • Court U.S. Supreme Court
  • Issues Discrimination in Name of Religion, LGBTQ Rights

Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer, residents of New York, were married in Toronto, Canada in 2007. Spyer died in 2009, leaving her entire estate to Windsor. Even though New York recognized the couple’s Canadian marriage, Windsor was barred from claiming the federal estate-tax marriage deduction by Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defined marriage for federal purposes as a legal union between one man and one woman. Windsor filed suit against the federal government on November 9, 2010, asserting that Section 3 of DOMA violated the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection.

In June 2012, the district court ruled in favor of Windsor, holding that Section 3 unconstitutionally discriminates against married, same-sex couples. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit affirmed the district court’s ruling in October 2012. The Supreme Court granted certiorari in December 2012.

We joined a Supreme Court amicus brief filed by the Anti-Defamation League in support of Windsor. We argued that Section 3 of DOMA should be struck down not only on equal protection grounds, but also as a violation of church-state separation. Although religious groups have the right to determine their own standards for marriage, we contended that these views should not provide the basis for civil marriage law.

In June 2013 the Supreme Court ruled 5–4 that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional. Writing for the majority, Justice Kennedy observed that the regulation of marriage “has long been regarded as a virtually exclusive province of the States.” The Court concluded that because the “principal purpose and the necessary effect [of Section 3 were] to demean those persons who are in a lawful same-sex marriage,” Section 3 violated the Constitution’s equal protection guarantee.

An American Original

Is the separation of church and state in the Constitution?

Absolutely. The separation of church and state is baked into our founding documents and our system of government.

The “wall of separation between church and state” is an American original. It’s an American invention. We should be proud of that fact. And we should fight any disinformation that threatens this ideal.

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