Justice Dept. Asks Supreme Court to Review 2 Petitions in Hopes of Overturning DOMA

The U.S. Department of Justice filed two petitions Tuesday as part of their challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act, asking the Supreme Court to review cases that could ultimately lead to the court overturning the law that defines marriage as between and man and a woman.

The specific part of the law that attorneys for the Justice Department want the court to focus on is Section 3, which they say violate the rights of legally married same-sex couples, arguing that it treats them differently than married heterosexual couples.

In 2007, New York resident Edie Windsor married her long-term partner Thea Spyer in a ceremony in Canada. But after Spyer died, Windsor had to pay approximately $363,000 in federal estate taxes to the U.S. government. The 2010 case is one of the two the government is asking the high court to review.

Additionally, the Justice Department also wants the court to review a case involving six same-sex married couples and a widower from various states that were denied federal benefits. In all, the U.S. Supreme Court has been asked to review four cases that could eventually lead to part or all of DOMA being ruled unconstitutional given that federal courts in several states have issued such opinions.

DOMA, which was passed by a Republican-controlled Congress in 1996 and signed into law by former Democratic President Bill Clinton, has come under fire during the Obama administration when in 2011 the Justice Department announced it would no longer defend the law. However, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group was appointed by Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives to defend the law.

The American Civil Liberties Union has been defending Windsor and announced a multiple friend-of-the-court brief on Monday. Parties include the city of New York; the states of New York, Connecticut and Vermont; 145 Democratic members of the U.S. House of Representatives; the Partnership for New York City, a major business lobby; the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund; and labor, legal, and religious organizations.

"The number and scope of the parties supporting Edie's case illustrate the breadth of the harms that DOMA inflicts on married same-sex couples," said James Esseks, director of the ACLU Lesbian Gay Bisexual and Transgender Project, in a news release. "It is time for the courts to bring an end to this discriminatory law once and for all."

Because Windsor is 83 years old and reported to be in frail health, her attorneys have requested that the case be heard on an expedited basis. The U.S. Supreme Court has not announced which DOMA cases it will hear in its upcoming session.

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