ACLU asks Supreme Court to hear lesbian widow’s DOMA case

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The Supreme Court has been asked to hear the case of a lesbian widow forced to pay more than $350,000 in federal estate tax after her wife died.

The ACLU filed the petition, a writ of certiorari, on behalf of 83-year-old Edith Windsor, who was treated in law as if she and her late wife Thea Spyer were strangers.

Ms Spyer died in 2009, two years after the couple married in Canada. The Defence of Marriage Act (DOMA) meant that their marriage was not federally recognised, so Ms Windsor was not eligible for the unlimited marital deduction on her late wife’s estate, unlike a heterosexual widow or widower. She had to pay more than $363,000 in estate taxes.

While the Obama administration no longer defends DOMA in court, federal agencies continue to enforce it.

The petition, filed by the ACLU and others, says: “The government has declined to defend its constitutionality, but continues to enforce the statute pending resolution by this court.

“Thus, individuals like petitioner continue to suffer serious consequences from the government’s failure to recognise their lawfully solemnised marriages.”

Ms Windsor first filed a lawsuit in November 2010, and in her ruling in June, US district court Judge Barbara Jones ordered the government to reimburse Ms Windsor the tax she paid to the federal agency.

Ms Windsor, speaking earlier this year, said of her 44-year relationship with Ms Spyer: “It’s thrilling to have a court finally recognise how unfair it is for the government to have treated us as though we were strangers.”