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Challenge to Defense of Marriage Act involves hefty estate tax bill

Wednesday - 3/27/2013, 12:29pm  ET

WASHINGTON (AP) -- The challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act that's been heard today before the Supreme Court involves an 83-year-old New York woman. She sued to fight a federal estate tax bill of $363,000 after her partner of 44 years died in 2009.

Edith Windsor had married Thea Spyer in Canada in 2007 after doctors told them that Spyer wouldn't live much longer. Spyer had suffered from multiple sclerosis for many years. She left everything she had to Windsor.

There is no dispute that if Windsor had been married to a man, her estate tax bill would have been zero.

A federal appeals court in New York agreed with a district judge that the Defense of Marriage Act had deprived Windsor of the constitutional guarantee of equal protection of the law, because she had to pay a tax that she wouldn't have had to pay if she'd been married to a man instead of a woman.

This case, like the one that was heard yesterday involving California's ban on same-sex marriage, could end without a definitive ruling from the high court. One issue is whether the House Republican leadership can defend the law in court after the administration decided not to.

If the Supreme Court finds that it doesn't have the authority to hear the case, Windsor probably would still get her refund because she won in the lower courts. But there would be no definitive decision about the Defense of Marriage Act from the Supreme Court, and it would remain on the books.

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