A surviving same-sex spouse was entitled to a marital deduction because Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), P.L. 104-199, is unconstitutional, a district court has held (Windsor v. United States, S.D. N.Y., 2012-1 ustc ¶60,647). The couple were in a long-term relationship and were registered domestic partners. After the decedent’s health began to decline in 2007, the couple married in Canada where same-sex marriage is recognized. Although the decedent’s will left everything to her registered domestic partner/spouse, the operation of section 3 of DOMA prevented the taxpayer from claiming the unlimited marital deduction. As executor of the estate, she paid the estate taxes and timely filed a claim for refund, asserting that section 3 of DOMA had no rational basis and deprived her of equal protection.
The spouse had standing to bring her claim because she suffered an injury in fact that could be redressed by a favorable decision. In addition, despite claims to the contrary, the injury was traceable to the challenged action. Although it was argued that the couple’s marriage was not recognized in their state (New York) of residence at the time of the decedent’s death, the court found that same-sex marriages were recognized by the executive agencies and the appellate courts in 2009.
Furthermore, the Supreme Court’s holding in Baker v. Nelson, Sct, 409 U.S. 810, a limitation on “marriage” to a relationship between one man and one woman was not a violation of equal protection, does not control because it dealt with a state’s right to prohibit same-sex marriage, not the federal government’s ability to limit rights based on whether two individuals have entered into a heterosexual marriage.
Finally, none of the reasons provided by the government for enacting DOMA passed the rational basis test. Therefore, the court found that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional as applied to the taxpayer. Accordingly, the court ordered the IRS to fully refund the excess estate taxes paid plus interest. An appeal has been filed, staying the enforcement of the judgment.