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Supreme Court to review estate tax challenge to Defense of Marriage Act

In October, a federal appeals court ruled that a New York widow was unconstitutionally discriminated against because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) forced her to pay more in estate taxes because she was legally married to another woman.

If Edith Windsor had been allowed by the Internal Revenue Service to use the estate tax provisions afforded a surviving spouse in a heterosexual marriage, the estate of her late wife, Thea Spyer, would have passed tax-free to Windsor.

The Wedding Couple by Mike Licht_NotionsCapital via Flickr The Wedding Couple, after Abbot Handerson Thayer and Richard E. Miller
by Mike Licht, NotionsCapital.com via Flickr

Now, as expected, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear Windsor's case. The justices also agreed to take up another lawsuit invovling California's Proposition 8 ban on same-sex marriage.

Many issues to consider: Per instruction from the Obama Administration, the Justice Department has stopped defending DOMA in court. Republicans in the House of Representatives have taken over the battle.

And that's one thing -- who has standing, i.e., the right to be in court -- that the Supreme Court must decide.

Standing also is at stake in the Prop 8 case. California's governor and state attorney general have refused to defend the same-sex marriage prohibition in court. A private coalition of groups supporting the ban, which was overturned by a federal appeals court, filed the appeal.

SCOTUSblog notes that each side in the two cases now has a chance "to make sweeping arguments, for or against [same-sex] marriages. But the Court left itself the option, at least during the current Term, of not giving real answers, perhaps because it lacks the authority to do so."

You can read more on the two cases and the Supreme Court's decision to hear them in Lyle Denniston's post On same-sex marriage, options open.

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