Attorneys Stephen Korshak and Lee Karina Dani

Supreme Court strikes DOMA provision against gay couples

by | Jun 27, 2013 | Estate Administration |

The United States supreme Court recently issued a ruling on U.S. v. Windsor, the estate tax case that pitted 84-year-old Edie Windsor against the Internal Revenue Service over taxes imposed when her long-time spouse, Thea Spyer, left Windsor her estate when she died in 2009.

The IRS believed that since the transfer was not made to a spouse recognized under federal law, estate taxes would be imposed. Property transfers upon death between heterosexual spouses do not trigger such taxes.

Windsor disagreed since she and Spyer had been married (as a result of a Canadian marriage) and had lived in New York for 40 years. She paid the $363,000 in estate taxes, then sued the IRS to obtain a refund.

In a 5-4 ruling, the Court found that the law recognizing marriage as one man and one woman (and essentially denying federal benefits for couples in states recognizing such marriages) was unconstitutional. The ruling follows a steady decline of support for DOMA as the U.S. Justice Department  had found it unconstitutional and has not prosecuted a case under the law since 2011.

Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said that the law “for no legitimate purpose” overrides a state’s marriage laws that recognizes same sex marriages. He also added that the law essentially says that these marriages are less respected than others. And as such violates the Fifth Amendment.

Kennedy was joined by Justices Elena Kagan, Stephen Breyer, Sonia Sotomayor, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg. 

In addition to estate taxes, the ruling could also impact other federal benefits that same sex couples enjoy in states that recognize such marriages, including Social Security benefits, income tax exemptions and health benefits.

Source:, Supreme Court DOMA decision rules federal same-sex marriage ban unconstitutional, June 26, 2013