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N.Y. widow asks Supreme Court to take up DOMA lawsuit

Attorneys cite plaintiff’s age as reason for justices to consider case

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Edith Windsor

Edith ‘Edie’ Windsor is asking the Supreme Court to take up her case against DOMA (Washington Blade file photo by Michael Key)

An octogenarian New York lesbian who recently won her case against the Defense of Marriage Act at the district court level is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to take up her lawsuit so that a final ruling can be made in her case.

On Monday, Edith “Edie” Windsor, 83, asked the high court to consider her lawsuit, Windsor v. United States, which challenges Section 3 of DOMA on the basis that it unfairly forced her to pay more than $363,000 dollars in estate taxes upon the death of her spouse, Thea Spyer, in 2009.

Windsor has already had a small victory. On June 6, the U.S. District Court of the Southern District of New York ruled that Windsor should be refunded the $363,000 dollars she paid in taxes. If the Supreme Court takes up the case, it would mean the lawsuit would skip the next more customary step of consideration before the U.S. Second Circuit Court of Appeals, which has already agreed to consider the case on an expedited basis.

The petition lays out four main reasons why the Supreme Court should consider her case: the case presents a constitutional question of “exceptional importance” because of the fundamental nature of marriage; lower courts are in significant disarray over the constitutionality of DOMA; the lawsuit presents an “excellent vehicle” to resolve the law’s constitutionality; and consideration before the high court before an appeals court ruling is warranted because of Windsor’s age.

“Ms. Windsor is 83 years old and suffers from a serious heart condition,” the petition states. “Because the District Court’s ruling is entitled to an automatic stay of enforcement … Ms. Windsor cannot receive the benefit of its ruling in her favor as the executor of Ms. Spyer’s estate pending appeal and any subsequent challenges. Ms. Windsor, not Ms. Windsor’s estate, should receive the benefit to which the District Court has already ruled that she is entitled; the constitutional injury that has been inflicted on Ms. Windsor, as the executor of Ms. Spyer’s estate and its sole beneficiary, should be remedied within her lifetime.”

Windsor and Spyer lived together for more than four decades in Greenwich Village. They were engaged in 1967 despite being unable to legally marry at the time, but finally were legally wed in 2007 in Canada. Spyer died in 2009 after battling for decades with multiple sclerosis, and left all her property to Windsor.

The petition was filed on behalf of Windsor by her attorneys at 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.

Donna Lieberman, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said in a statement overturning DOMA is particularly important in New York, which last year legalized same-sex marriage.

“At least 10,000 same-sex couples have been married in New York since our marriage law went into effect,” Lieberman said. “But DOMA subjects gay and lesbian married New Yorkers to a form of second-class citizenship. All married couples should have their marriages respected by the federal government, once and for all.”

The Obama administration stopped defending DOMA in court in February 2011. The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, or BLAG, a House body convened by Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio), has since taken up defense of the anti-gay law in the administration’s stead.

Attorneys arguing both for and against DOMA have already asked the Supreme Court to consider similar DOMA cases. Late last month, BLAG lawyers representing House Republicans filed an appeal to the high court in the consolidated case of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Massachusetts v. Department of Health & Human Services after the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled DOMA unconstitutional as a result of the litigation. A week later, the Justice Department also asked the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of DOMA by taking up the Massachusetts case and Golinksi v. United States.

Douglas NeJaime, who’s gay and a professor at Loyola Law School, said Windsor’s petition is noteworthy because the Supreme Court is “getting inundated” with requests to consider DOMA.

“The petitioners in Windsor are highlighting the fact that if the court takes the case, they could affirm – and rule DOMA unconstitutional – even under a rational-basis standard of review, thereby leaving unresolved the question of which level of scrutiny should be applied to sexual orientation-based classifications,” NeJaime said.

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Virginia

Va. Senate committee kills six anti-transgender bills

Democrats control chamber by 22-18 margin

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

The Virginia Senate Education Committee on Thursday killed six anti-transgender bills.

The committee rejected state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 960, state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Colonial Heights)’s Senate Bill 791 and state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania County)’s Senate Bill 1203. All three measures would have banned transition-related health care for minors in Virginia.

The committee also killed state Sen. John Cosgrove (R-Chesapeake)’s Senate Bill 911, Reeves’ Senate Bill 1186 and Peake’s Senate Bill 962. The measures would have banned transgender athletes from school teams corresponding with their gender identity.

Equality Virginia in a tweet said committee members received more than 3,000 emails “in opposition” to the bills. The statewide advocacy group further noted 10 out of 12 anti-trans bills introduced during this year’s legislative session have been defeated.

“Thank you to everyone who has spoken up against these bills,” said Equality Virginia. “Virginia is remaining a better, more inclusive state because of your efforts.”

“The fight isn’t over,” added the advocacy group. “But we know Virginians will show up for trans youth, day after day.”

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Virginia

Va. Senate subcommittee essentially kills three anti-transgender bills

Measures would ban transition-related health care for minors

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(Washington Blade photo by Michael Key)

A Virginia Senate subcommittee on Tuesday essentially killed three bills that would have banned transition-related health care for minors in the state.

Equality Virginia in a tweet noted the Senate Health Subcommittee “recommended killing” state Sen. Mark Peake (R-Lynchburg)’s Senate Bill 960, state Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Colonial Heights)’s Senate Bill 791 and state Sen. Bryce Reeves (R-Spotsylvania County)’s Senate Bill 1203. 

“We expect these bills to be officially dead after the full committee meets on Thursday,” said Equality Virginia.

Democrats have a 22-18 majority in the state Senate, and they have said they will block any anti-LGBTQ bill that reaches their chamber. State Del. Danica Roem (D-Manassas), who is the first openly transgender woman seated in a state legislature in the U.S., on Tuesday reiterated this point.

“With the defeat of these bills in the Senate, our (Virginia Senate Democrats) made it clear that *any* bills in the House targeting trans kids during the final week before crossover will not become law if they make it to the Senate,” she tweeted. “Let’s focus on feeding kids, not singling them out.”

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The White House

Doug Emhoff visits monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin

Second gentleman marked International Holocaust Remembrance Day at Auschwitz

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The Memorial to Homosexuals persecuted under Nazism in Berlin on July 23, 2022. Second gentleman Doug Emhoff visited the memorial on Jan. 31, 2023. (Washington Blade photo by Michael K. Lavers)

Second gentleman Doug Emhoff on Tuesday visited a monument to gay victims of the Nazis in Berlin.

A readout from Emhoff’s office notes he visited the Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under National Socialism with Philipp Braun of the Lesbian and Gay Federation of Germany, a German LGBTQ and intersex rights group. Christopher Schreiber and Alexander Scheld of the Berlin-Brandenburg Lesbian and Gay Federation were also with Emhoff.

“The Memorial to the Persecuted Homosexuals under Nazi Socialism is intended to honor the homosexual victims of National Socialism and at the same time ‘set a constant sign against intolerance, hostility and exclusion towards gays and lesbians,'” notes the readout.

Emhoff on Tuesday visited other memorials that honor the Sinti and Roma and people with disabilities who the Nazis killed. The second gentleman also visited Berlin’s Holocaust memorial before he met with five people who survived it.

The second gentleman earlier in the day participated in a roundtable with Jewish, Muslim and Christian leaders and met with Ukrainian refugees at Berlin’s New Synagogue. Emhoff on Monday participated in a meeting at the city’s Topography of Terror Museum that focused on antisemitism.

International Holocaust Memorial Day, which commemorates the liberation of the Auschwitz-Birkenau concentration camp in Poland in 1945, took place on Jan. 27. 

Emhoff, who is Jewish, traveled to the Auschwitz-Birkenau State Memorial and Museum and participated in ceremonies that commemorated the camp’s liberation. He later attended a Shabbat dinner with members of the Jewish community in Krakow, visited Oscar Schindler’s factory and met with Ukrainian refugees at a U.N. Refugee Agency community center before he traveled to Germany.

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