We Care

A $363,000 estate tax bill leds to Obama’s shift on Marriage Act

A $363,053 federal tax bill that a widow received caused the Obama administration to stop defending the Defense of Marriage Act, which bars the U.S. federal government from recognizing same-sex unions.

The widow and her wife married in Canada after a 40-year engagement and then moved to New York, which recognizes same-sex marriage. The widow’s wife died two years later, causing the widow to receive an enormous estate tax bill, Bloomberg reported.

The surviving spouse in a heterosexual marriage generally does not have to pay federal estate taxes on assets received from the deceased spouse. The Defense of Marriage Act however bars the federal government from recognizing the widow’s marriage to another woman, which is why she was not eligible for the spousal tax exemption.

“I couldn’t believe that our government would charge me $350,000 because I was married to a woman and not a man,” the widow said.

The widow, with the help of the American Civil Liberties Union, filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government to reclaim her money. The widow’s lawsuit was cited by Attorney General Eric Holder in an announcement that the Obama administration would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Act in court.

The widow and her wife were both professionals who met in Greenwich Village restaurant in 1963. The engagement started in 1967 and was symbolized by a diamond pin which would not attract the same notice as a ring. The women were married in Toronto in 2007 when same-sex marriage was legalized in Canada at the ages of 77 and 75.

The next court deadline in the case is March 11, when motions to dismiss are due.

Source: Bloomberg, “Widow’s $363,000 Tax Bill Led to Obama Shift on Marriage Act,” Andrew M. Harris, 2/27/11