New York giving surviving gay spouses estate tax refunds

Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the case involving the Defense of Marriage Act, among the grand marshals during the annual gay pride march in New York, June...
Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in the case involving the Defense of Marriage Act, among the grand marshals during the annual gay pride march in New York, June...
James Estrin/The New York Times

The woman who brought down the Defense of Marriage Act will soon get back thousands of dollars her same-sex marriage cost her.

Following Edie Windsor’s Supreme Court victory last month challenging DOMA, which denied federal recognition to same-sex couples, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Tuesday announced New York would refund estate taxes paid by surviving spouses of same-sex marriages. The refunds will be offered to those whose spouses died as recently as 2008, reports the Daily News, three years before New York legalized same-sex marriage. As the governor’s office points out, three years is the typical limit for a taxpayer to file an estate tax claim, credit, or refund.
Cuomo called the compensation “one more step toward justice” in a press release.
“The Supreme Court’s decision to strike down DOMA was a groundbreaking civil rights victory that brought the LGBT community closer to the true meaning of equal rights under the law,” he said. “As a result of that decision, New York State is now able to issue refund checks to qualified same-sex spouses who were required to pay taxes for no reason other than their sexual orientation.”
After her partner of more than 40 years passed away in 2009, Windsor was hit with over $600,000 in federal and New York estate taxes. The couple married in Canada in 2007, but neither the federal government, nor New York state yet recognized their union. DOMA prevented same-sex couples from qualifying for the estate tax exemption.
The Supreme Court’s landmark decision to strike down that law, however, meant that Windsor would get back more than $300,000 from the U.S. Treasury—roughly half of the money she had to pay for losing a wife instead of a husband. The governor’s announcement Tuesday meant she’d be getting back the other half.
“I want to thank Governor Cuomo, who is a true hero in the struggle for the freedom to marry,” said Windsor in a statement. “I am of course thrilled that I will be getting a refund of the estate tax that I never should have had to pay in the first place. What makes me even happier, however, is the fact that no other gay person will ever again have to face the indignity of DOMA. Governor Cuomo has once again kept his promise of equality for all.”
Windsor’s attorney, Robbie Kaplan, told the Daily News that her client expects to receive a refund of $275,000, plus interest, from the state. So far, Cuomo is the only governor to announce estate tax refunds, but advocates expect more to follow.
“The case in front of the Supreme Court did not directly involve state taxation, but the language and logic of the court’s ruling does apply.” said Evan Wolfson, president of Freedom to Marry, to msnbc. “And state officials, much like federal officials, will need to work to get state laws in conformity with the command of the constitution.”