The New York Legal Assistance Group has joined a national coalition of bar associations, civil rights groups and legal service organizations as co-signatories in an amicus brief supporting Edith Windsor in the U.S. Supreme Court case, United States v. Windsor. The coalition argues that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional as it excludes legally married same-sex couples from the federal rights, benefits, and burdens that are guaranteed to other married couples and should therefore be struck down.

“The Supreme Court should accord a higher level of scrutiny in cases that involve a person’s sexual orientation. Gays and lesbians have historically experienced discriminatory treatment based on their sexual orientation. DOMA should be found unconstitutional because it allows the federal government to treat married same-sex couples as if they are legal strangers and not family, and that is simply wrong,” said Yisroel Schulman, NYLAG’s President and Attorney-in-Charge.

NYLAG represents low-income gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) New Yorkers who have firsthand experience with the discrimination and pain that DOMA has caused, including:

Denial of Family Medical Leave

Because of DOMA, the federal government does not recognize valid state marriages and since the Family Medical Leave Act is a federal law, it does not provide same-sex couples with the protection that other married couples are guaranteed, such as taking time off work to care for an ill spouse.

Loss of one’s home when a spouse dies

Because of DOMA, if the spouse from a same-sex marriage dies, the federal government requires the surviving spouse to pay an estate tax, often forcing the survivor to sell her or his home, the only asset the couple may have owned. An opposite-sex married couple would be granted a ”˜marital deduction’ which would not require payment of the estate tax, and would allow the living spouse to keep their home.

Denial of immigration rights

Because of DOMA, a foreign-born, same-sex spouse of an American cannot obtain a green card. The same-sex couple is denied the immigration rights afforded to other similarly situated bi-national couples because the federal government does not recognize their marriage. These couples are forced to either move out of the US together or to stay in the country without benefit of legal status.