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Second Circuit Court Of Appeals Strikes Down The Defense Of Marriage Act

CONTACT: Bridget Asay, Assistant Attorney General, (802) 828-3181

October 18, 2012

A federal appeals court in New York City issued a decision today striking down a key part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA. Attorney General Sorrell, along with the States of Connecticut and New York, filed a joint “friend of the court” brief in this case. The states’ joint brief urged the Court to strike down DOMA and require the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages permitted by the states.

Because DOMA defines marriage for all federal purposes as “only a legal union between one man and one woman,” married same-sex couples in Vermont have been treated as single for purposes of federal law, and have been excluded from a wide range of federal benefits and tax exemptions that depend on marital status. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals, whose jurisdiction includes Vermont, ruled today in Windsor v. United States that this part of DOMA “violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional.” In ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional, the Court agreed that laws discriminating against gays and lesbians must be examined with heightened scrutiny because of our nation’s history of discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The Court found no adequate justification for DOMA’s unequal treatment of same-sex married couples. It described DOMA’s federal definition of marriage – a matter traditionally regulated by the states – as an “unprecedented breach of longstanding deference to federalism that singles out same-sex marriage.”

Attorney General Sorrell praised the Court’s decision. “Although this matter may ultimately be decided by the Supreme Court, today’s decision marks a crucial step toward achieving equality for same-sex couples. The federal government should not, and constitutionally cannot, refuse to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples in Vermont and across the country.”

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