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DOMA Challenge Begins in Federal Court

US District Court judge Joseph Tauro heard arguments in a challenge of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) yesterday. The case, 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. The suit alleges that Section 3 of DOMA, which states “the word ‘marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife,” violates the equal protection clause of the US Constitution. Passed in 1996, DOMA defines marriage as between one man and one woman and denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages. According to The Advocate, GLAAD attorney Mary Bonauto said in court that DOMA “takes one class of married people in the commonwealth” of Massachusetts “and divides it into two.” Further, she argued that same-sex couples, as a class are “utterly disregarded” under DOMA, thus making Section 3 of the law a “classic equal protection” violation. According to the Boston Globe, Bonauto also said that “all the federal government has ever cared about is that the person is married at the state level [and] for the first time ever, DOMA departed from that.” President Obama has previously expressed support for repealing DOMA, leaving the Justice Department in a precarious position, defending a law in court that the Administration does not agree with. Justice Department lawyer W. Scott Simpson, said during his argument that “This presidential administration disagrees with DOMA as a matter of policy…But that does not affect its constitutionality,” reported the Boston Globe. Another lawsuit challenging the law was filed by the state of Massachusetts in July 2009. Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage, is also the first to challenge the constitutionality of DOMA. Its lawsuit, filed by state Attorney General Martha Coakley, claims that the law forces the state to discriminate against its approximately 16,000 same-sex married couples. In addition to Massachusetts, same sex marriage is also legal in Connecticut, Iowa, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont.

Sources:

Christian Science Monitor 5/6/10; The Advocate 5/6/10; Boston Globe 5/6/10; Feminist Daily Newswire 5/9/09