The U.S. Supreme Court is getting ready to hear argument Wednesday on the federal Defense of Marriage Act. The act says a broad range of federal benefits and considerations for married couples apply only to heterosexual unions.
The entire law, enacted in 1996, is not under attack. Section 2 says no state is required "to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of another state that treats a relationship between two persons of the same sex as a marriage under its laws."
Section 3, which is targeted, says, "In determining the meaning of any act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."
The Obama administration is among the DOMA challengers.
"Although Section 3 of DOMA does not purport to invalidate same-sex marriages in those states that permit them," the administration told the Supreme Court, "it excludes such marriages from recognition for purposes of more than 1,000 federal statutes and programs whose administration turns in part on individuals' marital status. ... Section 3 of DOMA thus denies to legally married same-sex couples many substantial benefits otherwise available to legally married opposite-sex couples under federal employment, immigration, public health and welfare, tax and other laws."
In the underlying case, Edith Schlain Windsor, an 84-year-old New Yorker, married her same-sex partner of 40 years, Thea Spyer, in 2007 in Canada. When Spyer died in 2009 of multiple sclerosis, she left her estate to Windsor.
As executor of Spyer's estate, Windsor paid approximately $363,000 in federal estate taxes, but filed a refund claim under a federal statute that says "property that passes from a decedent to a surviving spouse may generally pass free of federal estate taxes." The Internal Revenue Service denied the claim on the ground that Windsor is not a "spouse" within the meaning of DOMA Section 3 and thus not a "surviving spouse" within the meaning of the statute.
A federal appeals court ruled in her favor.
U.S. House Republican leaders are defending DOMA, represented by a group called the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the United States House of Representatives, or BLAG,
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