20 Oct Court of Appeals Rules Against DOMA
Thursday, in a 2-1 decision, the Second Court of Appeals in New York City gave Gays and Lesbians a new form of constitutional protection against discrimination. The ruling came in a case that is already pending in the Supreme Court. One of ten DOMA cases to go through the appeals courts this year, the case involves a New York woman seeking a refund of $363,053 in federal taxes on the estate she inherited when her same-sex spouse died. Although she had been legally married, provisions in DOMA denied benefits that opposite-sex widows or widowers receive.
Of the other federal courts that voted to strike down DOMA’s section 3, none presumed to rule that gays and lesbians are constitutionally entitled to greater protection against discrimination until the Second Circuit’s ruling yesterday.
For legal purposes “what the Second Circuit decision did was to declare that gays and lesbians have become victims of continuing discrimination, and their sexual identities makes them a distinctive class, and, as such, any laws that would discriminate against them must be judged by “heightened scrutiny.” (Denniston, Lyle, SCOTUS Blog: http://www.scotusblog.com/2012/10/major-victory-for-gay-rights-same-sex-marriage/#more-154005).
In constitutional law, the courts review discrimination cases on about three standards: Rational Basis Review, and Middle and Heightened Scrutiny. In the past, the majority of courts have made rulings on gay rights with the use of Rational Basis. To have a federal appeals court decide that “any laws that would discriminate against [gays and lesbians] must be judged by heightened scrutiny” is a significant ruling with broad implications.
Lyle Denniston from the SCOTUS blog states:
Under the Second Circuit’s use of that more demanding analysis, discrimination based on sexual identity is now to be judged by the same test that is used when a law is claimed to discriminate against a man or a woman based on their gender.
In states and cities with anti-discrimination laws that include sexual-identity, private business owners and medical practitioners lose their rights of conscience and personal religious freedom. These laws profoundly affect the rest of society in public education, parental rights, and decency laws.
The scope of this ruling is more important than the final outcome. This ruling broadens judicial opinions involving homosexuality and same-sex marriage that will be reviewed by the Supreme Court. Although, not scheduled, the Supreme Court is expected to review all eight cases related to same-sex marriage sometime next month. Yesterday’s ruling from the second court of appeals is considered a major victory for gay-rights and same-sex marriage.