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Boston Judge Rules DOMA Unconstitutional

Yesterday, Boston federal judge Joseph L Tauro ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional and that same-sex marriages must be subject to the same benefits as heterosexual marriages. Tauro ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in two separate court cases, but it is uncertain whether the ruling will be hold up during appeals but if maintained by the Supreme Court, it will protect federal benefits for same-sex marriages. Judge Tauro wrote in the ruling, “This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status’The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state.” Massachusetts is the first state to challenge the constitutionality of DOMA. Its lawsuit, filed by state Attorney General Martha Coakley in July 2009, claimed that the law forces the state to discriminate against its approximately 16,000 same-sex married couples. The New York Times reports that DOMA prevents couples from utilizing federal benefit programs “like Social Security survivors’ payments, the right to file taxes jointly and guaranteed leave from work to care for a sick spouse.” The second suit, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, was filed on behalf of seven gay and lesbian married couples and three widowers by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAAD). According to the Christian Science Monitor, the widowed plaintiffs were denied death benefits for their spouses, others paid more in taxes because they were not able to file joint returns, and another was unable to obtain health insurance for his husband. Judge Tauro agreed that DOMA violates the equal protection clause as it denies benefits for an entire group of individuals. Another recent victory for same-sex couples was a memorandum released by President Obama in June that extends the benefits available to same-sex partners of federal workers. An earlier memorandum included leave to tend to sick partners, eligibility for partners in a long-term care program, and including the partners of Foreign Service workers in housing assignments and medical evaluations. The June memorandum has come under criticism, however, for failing to extend full health care coverage to partners. Obama has explained that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) prevented him from granting this benefit. During his presidential campaign, President Obama had promised to repeal DOMA.

Sources:

New York Times 7/8/10; Christian Science Monitor 5/6/10; Feminist Daily Newswire 5/7/10, 6/3/10, 7/9/09