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March 1, 2013

Religious Leaders, Members of Congress, High-Ranking Service Members Support Challenge to DOMA

More than 45 briefs from religious leaders, members of Congress, retired military generals, children’s advocacy groups, civil rights groups and others will be filed today in support of Edith “Edie” Windsor’s challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court to the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

After the death of her legal spouse, Thea Spyer, Windsor was forced to pay more than $360,000 in estate taxes — money she would not have had to pay had she been married to a man instead of a woman. Windsor sued the federal government for failing to recognize her marriage. She is represented by attorneys from Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison LLP; the American Civil Liberties Union; the New York Civil Liberties Union and the Stanford Law School Supreme Court Litigation Clinic.

One of the briefs to be filed is from 40 current U.S. senators and 172 representatives. A second brief to be filed from former U.S. senators who initially voted for DOMA – Bill Bradley, Tom Daschle, Christopher Dodd and Alan Simpson – acknowledges that much has changed since 1996.

The brief explains: “As Senators, and then as citizens, we have watched over the past seventeen years as the assumptions that led to the passage of DOMA have proven unfounded and as the nation’s understanding of what equality requires has evolved. That experience has convinced us that DOMA is unconstitutional—a statute badly out of step not only with emerging realities, but with America’s enduring commitment to equal protection of the law.”

“You either believe in equality or you don’t. There are military families who are being treated differently and that’s wrong,” said Patrick J. Murphy, Iraq war veteran and former U.S. representative (PA-8). “No soldier should be discriminated against when it comes to housing, healthcare or survivorship benefits. We can’t allow DOMA to divide married troops any longer. It’s hurting the backbone of our military – the military family.”

In September, a federal appeals court ruled in Windsor’s favor that section three of DOMA unconstitutionally discriminates against married same-sex couples. More than 270 businesses and municipal leaders filed a brief in support of Windsor’s case earlier this week.

In addition to the congressional briefs, some of the groups filing in support of Windsor include:
• Religious organizations and leaders, such as: the Jewish Theological Seminary of America; Bishops of the Episcopal Church; and Manhattan Conference of the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.
• Former high-ranking officers of the Army, Navy and Marine Corps.
• NAACP Legal Defense & Educational Fund
• Donna Shalala and other former cabinet secretaries, commissioners and other senior administrative agency officials.
• Children’s rights organizations, mental health associations (including the American Psychological Association) and the American Sociological Association.
• Historians, political scientists, demographers, constitutional scholars, and other content experts.

“The fact that such a wide-range of individuals and organizations are supporting Edie based on their experience and expertise shows that there is no defensible argument for DOMA,” said Mary Bonauto, civil rights project director at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders who coordinated the amicus effort. “It is critical that so many groups stand with Edie in bringing an end to this discriminatory law that hurts so many legally married same-sex couples.”

In December, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Windsor’s case, as well as a challenge to California’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples. Arguments in Windsor’s case will be heard on March 27.

A full list of parties filing briefs can be found here

For more information on this case, please visit www.aclu.org/edie.