Federal Court: DOMA Section Violates Equal Protection

(photo: Zolk)

A US District Court judge just ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed during the Clinton Administration, violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional. The cases, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Massachusetts v. U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, were decided by Nixon appointee Judge Joseph Tauro. GLAD first provided the news.

Here is section 3 of DOMA:

‘In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United 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.’

This could have implications for allowing same-sex couples to marry, but more likely it will allow them to access federal benefits that opposite-sex couples receive if they live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal. That was the crux of the court case, that a couple legally married in Massachusetts couldn’t receive the same benefits at the federal level.

If this decision is upheld, it would unwind much of the Defense of Marriage Act and could lead the way to full recognition of same-sex couples as a Constitutional right. It would at least serve as precedent in the other cases challenging same-sex marriage bans, such as Perry v. Schwarzenegger in California.

More in a moment.

UPDATE: Here is the ruling in Gill v. OPM. It should be remembered that Barack Obama’s Justice Department filed an opposition to the motion for summary judgment in this case (this was not the case where they defended DOMA by invoking incest). In the Massachusetts v. HHS decision, the 10th Amendment was invoked:

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, and, in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment. For that reason, the statute is invalid.

UPDATE II: As Joe Sudbay says, the key point will be whether OPM, HHS or DoJ decide to appeal the ruling. Incidentally, the Attorney General of Massachusetts, that horrible no-good Ms. Martha Coakley, brought the Mass v. HHS case to court.

Federal Court: DOMA Section Violates Equal Protection

A US District Court judge just ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed during the Clinton Administration, violates equal protection and is therefore unconstitutional. The cases, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Massachusetts v. U.S. Dep’t of Health and Human Services, were decided by Nixon appointee Judge Joseph Tauro. GLAD first provided the news.

Here is section 3 of DOMA:

‘In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United 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.’

This could have implications for allowing same-sex couples to marry, but more likely it will allow them to access federal benefits that opposite-sex couples receive if they live in a state where same-sex marriage is legal. That was the crux of the court case, that a couple legally married in Massachusetts couldn’t receive the same benefits at the federal level.

If this decision is upheld, it would unwind much of the Defense of Marriage Act and could lead the way to full recognition of same-sex couples as a Constitutional right. It would at least serve as precedent in the other cases challenging same-sex marriage bans, such as Perry v. Schwarzenegger in California.

More in a moment.

UPDATE: Here is the ruling in Gill v. OPM. It should be remembered that Barack Obama’s Justice Department filed an opposition to the motion for summary judgment in this case (this was not the case where they defended DOMA by invoking incest). In the Massachusetts v. HHS decision, the 10th Amendment was invoked:

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, and, in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment. For that reason, the statute is invalid.

UPDATE II: As Joe Sudbay says, the key point will be whether OPM, HHS or DoJ decide to appeal the ruling. Incidentally, the Attorney General of Massachusetts, that horrible no-good Ms. Martha Coakley, brought the Mass v. HHS case to court.

UPDATE III: Adam Bink explains the particulars of the case.

If you’re interested in the personal aspect, the GLAD case concerns Nancy Gill and her spouse Marcelle Letourneau, who are legally married in Massachusetts. Nancy works for the US Postal Service, but is legally barred by DOMA from covering Marcelle on her health insurance plan, and must pay extra to insure her. As with other couples, Marcelle is not eligible for other spousal work-related benefits like Nancy’s pension should something happen to her, or Social Security survivor’s benefits.