Yesterday, an 83-year-old widow named Edie Windsor stood before a panel of federal appeals court judges in lower Manhattan and asked them to overturn the federal Defense of Marriage Act–and give her back the $363,053 in estate taxes she had to pay because her 2007 marriage to Thea Spyer, who died in 2009, was not recognized by the United States government.
Windsor’s case is in line to wind up before the Supreme Court along with several other related DOMA challenges. Her appeal has attracted support from New York state and local officials, as well as from House Democrats, but she also has the backing of Jewish organizations like the Anti-Defamation League and Hadassah, and of the Conservative and Reform movements, which argue that the act confuses civil and religious marriage, and impinges on their religious authority, already exercised, to officiate and recognize same-sex marriages. “DOMA departs from this longstanding separation between religious and civil definitions of marriage by incorporating, for the first time, a single religious definition into federal law — a definition inconsistent with the decision of many religious groups, including many of the undersigned amici, to embrace an inclusive view of marriage,” states the organizations’ friend-of-the-court brief, filed earlier this month.
“One of the most popular arguments that’s been made about affording rights to gay couples has been a rigid reliance on religion, and the view expressed has been that the only religious view of these issues is a view of intolerance,” said Roberta Kaplan, Windsor’s lawyer.
Kaplan is a member of Congregation Beit Simchat Torah, which also joined the friend-of-the-court brief. “I believe religion must be a voice, especially when religion has been a source of oppression,” CBST’s rabbi, Sharon Kleinbaum, said. “We have to reject this idea that religion is a force for bigotry and make it a force for liberation.”
Kleinbaum, who marched with Windsor at this summer’s Pride Parade in New York, honored both Kaplan and Windsor at CBST’s Kol Nidre services earlier this week. “I wasn’t so happy about the court schedule when we got it, but now I think it’s kind of a blessing to have a day to focus,” Kaplan told me before the Yom Kippur break. “This case is really about fundamental issues so it’s fitting that’s what I’ll be thinking about the day before.”
Allison Hoffman is a senior editor at Tablet Magazine. Her Twitter feed is @allisont_dc.