HRC Blog

Developments in the Mass. DOMA Court Cases

This afternoon, the Department of Justice filed notice that they will appeal two decisions from this summer declaring the denial of federal rights and benefits to lawfully married Massachusetts couples under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional.  As you’ll recall, in July, Judge Joseph Tauro of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts ruled against the government in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services.  While the President and DOJ have repeatedly stated they believe DOMA to be discriminatory, they also argue that they have a duty to defend the statute enacted by Congress.  We remain disappointed and frustrated that the administration continue to defend a law that serves no purpose but to harm our families.  However, our friends at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley have already made an unassailable case against DOMA.    

We are confident they will prevail. In March 2009, GLAD filed Gill v. OPM on behalf of eight married couples and three surviving spouses from Massachusetts who have been denied federal rights and benefits available to spouses, but denied to them because DOMA, a federal law adopted in 1996, defines marriage solely as the union of a man and a woman. In July 2009, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts filed its own suit challenging the federal government’s requirement that in operating federally-funded programs, including Medicaid and the administration of veterans’ cemeteries, the state must treat some of its married citizens differently than others. There over 1,000 rights, benefits and responsibilities tied to marriage under federal law, including Social Security survivors’ benefits, family and medical leave, equal compensation as federal employees, and immigration rights, among others.  The case will now go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.  According to GLAD, oral arguments are not expected in the Gill case until fall 2011.

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