In a case being watched closely by lawyers in Connecticut because of similarities to a recent decision here, a divided federal appeals court in Manhattan this morning became the second in the nation to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act as unconstitutional.
In Windsor v. United States, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit upheld a ruling by Southern District Judge Barbara Jones that the 1996 law that defines marriage as involving a man and a woman was unconstitutional.
A majority of the three-judge Second Circuit panel, in a ruling by Chief Judge Dennis Jacobs, concluded that the definition violated the Equal Protection Clause. Its opinion joined an earlier decision by the First Circuit in Boston.
The case has been closely watched by the Connecticut bar. Not only did a federal judge in Connecticut also strike down Section 3 of DOMA this summer in the case of Pederson v. Office of Personnel Management, but several Connecticut groups, including the Connecticut Bar Association, as well as the state Attorney General’s Office, all filed amicus briefs in the New York case.
The Connecticut case, which was filed on behalf of six same-sex couples and a one widower from Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire, is awaiting further action from the Second Circuit.
Connecticut’s Attorney General George Jepsen called the ruling in the New York case an important step toward winning equal-rights for same sex couples.
“As I’ve said before, discrimination based on sexual orientation has no place in our society or under our laws,” Jepsen said. “Today’s ruling is another important step toward affirming the rights of all married couples in the state of Connecticut.”
Jepsen joined many bar groups and attorney generals from neighboring states in an amicus brief which supported the idea that same sex couples should be afforded heightned scrutity.
“I appreciated the opportunity to partner with our fellow states – New York and Vermont – which Connecticut joined in expressing the shared belief of our states that same-sex couples should be treated as equals under our law,” Jepsen said. “I applaud the court for this important decision.”
Tim Fisher, a partner at McCarter & English in Hartford who signed the amicus brief as the attorney of record on behalf of the CBA, said the decsion is important, because “we’re seeing a trend.”
The case is expected to be sent to the U.S. Supreme Court for review, as was done a similar ruling in Gill v. Office of Personell Management. “We have little doubt that there will be a comparable petition to appeal the Windsor case,” said Fisher. “And both are ripe for the Supreme Court to weigh in on.”
Brian Rice, an associate with McCarter & English and member of the CBA Board of Governors which supported joining the amicus in the New York case, said he was pleased to see the CBA was “on the right side of the issue.”
“It’s a very important step toward having marriage equality for same sex couples,” Rice said.