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That Supreme Court case was spearheaded by Edie Windsor, an 83-year-old Jewish woman who, under the Defense of Marriage Act, a federal law passed in 1996, was denied a federal estate tax exemption after the death of her wife. Despite the dismantling of DOMA by the Supreme Court in the Windsor decision, the court did not address directly dozens of state laws and constitutional amendments around the country that carry similar provisions.
The newly filed Philadelphia case is the first of a handful of new challenges to state-level same-sex marriage bans in federal courts across the country.
“This seems like a very different strategy to bring as many lawsuits as possible and get something to the Supreme Court,” said David S. Cohen, a professor at the Earle Mack School of Law at Philadelphia’s Drexel University.
Whereas the ACLU was previously filing sure-shot lawsuits in state courts, the Pennsylvania case seems aimed at winning a broader victory. Though a narrowly worded decision in the district court could mean that a decision would affect only the plaintiffs, a series of appeals could bring the case to the U.S. Supreme Court quickly.
The ACLU’s argument in the case claims a right to marry under the 14th Amendment. If the U.S. Supreme Court were to decide that a right to same-sex marriage is guaranteed under the 14th Amendment, all state gay marriage bans could be lifted.
“It could be a couple of years to the Supreme Court,” Cohen said. “The briefings are not difficult at this stage. The arguments are out there. Everyone knows the argument.”
At the center of the case are a handful of gay couples, including Miller, 39, and her wife, Dara Raspberry, a physician.
Miller and Raspberry were married in 2010 at a Jewish ceremony. They lived in Brooklyn at the time, but decided a year later to move to Pennsylvania to be closer to Miller’s parents. Raspberry, 43, is a doctor at Einstein Medical Center, in Philadelphia.