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On Thursday, a federal appeals court in Manhattan ruled that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The law defines marriage as only between a man and woman, denying same-sex unions many of the benefits heterosexual married couples enjoy.

Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs—a severely conservative, Republican-appointed judge—wrote the opinion, which stated that the government must have an “exceedingly persuasive” justification to discriminate against a minority group such as gays and lesbians, and thus the law violates the equal protection clause of the Constitution.

Earlier this year a federal court in Boston also struck down the law, setting the stage for a decision on the Act by the Supreme Court in the near future.

The case was filed by Edie Windsor, who was forced to pay $377,000 in estate taxes when her wife of 40 years died. Married heterosexual couples do not have to pay estate taxes on money inherited from a spouse.

“Today, we’re one step closer to striking down the Defense of Marriage Act,” said New York City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, who recently married her longtime girlfriend. “This morning’s ruling by the Second District Court affirms what those on the side of justice and equality have always known, that DOMA is an indefensible assault on our civil liberties.”

On November 6, Maryland may be the first state to approve same-sex marriage through a ballot proposal.

Photo credit: AP Photo

 

 

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