A federal court has held the denial of federal tax benefits to same-sex couples to be unconstitutional. More specifically, the Second Circuit held that the federal government unconstitutionally denied an estate tax marital deduction to a same-sex couple. See Windsor v. U.S., 2d. Cir., No. 12-2335-cv(L) (October 18, 2012).
But the implications of this case are far broader than the tax implications. Significantly, the Windsor Court treated sexual orientation as a quasi-suspect class, applying a heightened level of constitutional scrutiny. From an analytical perspective, this is a perceptible and welcomed improvement from many prior cases which have identified sexual orientation as a non-suspect class subject to an extremely low threshold of constitutional review. Moreover, the Court held that the denial of the federal tax benefit in this case was unconstitutional based on the broader holding that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA")* was unconstitutional. This is another big step toward marriage equality.
*Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") defines "marriage" as a relationship between a man and a woman and thereby legally codifies the non-recognition of same-sex marriages for all federal purposes, including federal tax benefits.