President Obama last week directed the Justice Department to stop defending a 1996 law that bars federal recognition of gay marriages. In explaining the decision, Attorney General Eric Holder cited two lawsuits challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). One was the case of Edith "Edie" Windsor, an 81-year-old widow. Here, a guide to her case:
Why did Windsor file suit?
She wants to recover estate taxes she was forced to pay because the government didn't recognize her marriage to another woman. Windsor and Thea Spyer were engaged for 40 years before they got married in Toronto in 2007, when they were 77 and 75, respectively. Spyer died two years later, and Wilson paid $363,053 in estate taxes. She filed suit when her request for a refund was denied, arguing that the tax "would not have applied to a married straight couple," and that the law was therefore unconstitutional.
Is she pleased with Obama's shift?
Very. The president's decision is "almost overwhelming," says Windsor, as quoted in The New York Times. She says that the policy change "is mind-blowing to anybody gay or anybody who is related to anybody gay. I think it removes a great deal of the stigma."
Will Edie get her money back now?
Not necessarily. The case is still pending in federal court. The DOJ won't actively defend the law, but that's no guarantee that Windsor will win.
But DOMA is dead, right?
No. The law remains in effect unless Congress repeals it or the courts strike it down. For now, the government will still be enforcing the act, just not defending it against court challenges. But opponents of Obama's decision, such as House Speaker John Boehner, could step in to pursue the court cases. And traditional marriage activists have been "emboldened" by the Obama administration's decision, and may step up their fight as well, write Eve Conant and Daniel Stone at MSNBC.