Tuesday, July 26, 2011
Last November, Edith Windsor filed a complaint in the Southern District of New York as the survivor of a same-sex couple married in Canada. Windor seeks a refund of estate taxes paid because the marriage was not recognized by the federal government and argues that the Defense of Marriage Act, DOMA, section 3 is an unconstitutional denial of equal protection.
Today, the Attorney General of New York filed an amicus brief supporting Windsor. With same-sex marriage now legal in New York (although a challenge was filed yesterday), the state has a substantial interest in the effect of DOMA. The state joins Windor's equal protection arguments, but also raises a Tenth Amendment argument:
Although plaintiff has not raised a Tenth Amendment claim in her complaint, principles of federalism should inform this Court’s review of her equal-protection claim as well. Federalism protects not merely the interests of state governments, but also individual liberty: “By denying any one government complete jurisdiction over all the concerns of public life, federalism protects the liberty of the individual from arbitrary power.” Bond v. United States, 131 S. Ct. 2355, 2364 (2011). The power of Congress is at its lowest when it seeks to discourage States from enacting statutes, like the Marriage Equality Act, that are at the core of the States’ sovereignty. In analyzing the validity of the Gun-Free School Zones Act under the Commerce Clause, Justice Kennedy instructed that “[A]t the least we must inquire whether the exercise of national power seeks to intrude upon an area of traditional state concern.” United States v. Lopez, 514 U.S. 549, 580 (1995) (Kennedy, J., concurring). So too here, the analysis of the statute must take into account that it intrudes on an area of traditional state concern.
The brief then cites the Massachusetts DOMA distict court opinion, Massachusetts v. US, presently on appeal.
While the Obama Administration is not defending DOMA - - - itself having decided DOMA is unconstitutional - - - it is noteworthy that at this point, New York is only filing an amicus brief and not filing a complaint of its own unlike Massachusetts.
The New York Attorney General's brief is disconcerting in one respect. It argues,
Because New York has consistently expressed and implemented its commitment to equal treatment for same-sex couples, New York has a strong interest in ensuring that the “protections, responsibilities, rights, obligations, and benefits,” ch. 95, § 2, 2011 N.Y. Laws at __, accorded to them under federal law by virtue of marriage are equal to those accorded to different-sex married couples.
Yet some might argue that New York's "commitment" to equality for same-sex couples has been less than total. The state's highest court, the New York Court of Appeals, reversed lower courts and rejected a claim that limiting marriage to opposite sex couples was unconstitutional in Hernandez v. Robles in 2006. Hernandez v. Robles applied rational basis scrutiny and in much criticized passage reasoned that the legislature could "rationally decide that, for the welfare of children, it is more important to promote stability" and that because heterosexual relationships lead to children and that because "such relationships are all too often casual or temporary," the legislature "could find that an important function of marriage is to create more stability and permanence in the relationships that cause children to be born" and it could thus " choose to offer an inducement—in the form of marriage and its attendant benefits—to opposite-sex couples who make a solemn, long-term commitment to each other." The court reasoned that this inducement rationale "does not apply with comparable force to same-sex couples" who can become "parents by adoption, or by artificial insemination or other technological marvels, but they do not become parents as a result of accident or impulse." Thus,
The Legislature could find that unstable relationships between people of the opposite sex present a greater danger that children will be born into or grow up in unstable homes than is the case with same-sex couples, and thus that promoting stability in opposite-sex relationships will help children more. This is one reason why the Legislature could rationally offer the benefits of marriage to opposite-sex couples only.
Perhaps it is understandable why the New York Attorney General would not want to mention Hernandez v. Robles - - - the brief does not cite it - - - but it does belie New York's "consistent" support for same-sex marriage.