HRC Blog

Federal Appeals Court Hears Arguments in Historic DOMA Challenge

Post submitted by Brian Moulton, Former HRC Legal Director

This morning, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston will hear oral arguments in two challenges to the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Gill v. OPM and Massachusetts v. HHS.  This is the first time a federal appeals court will take up the issue of whether DOMA violates the guarantees of the U.S. Constitution.  The Gill case was brought by our colleagues at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders on behalf of several married Massachusetts same-sex couples and surviving spouses who had been denied specific rights and benefits -- like federal employee health benefits, Social Security survivors’ benefits, and others -- because of DOMA, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing their lawful marriages. 

The court also is hearing the appeal of a case brought by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts itself, which argues that DOMA requires the state to discriminate against its own citizens when it jointly administers federal programs like Medicaid and veteran's cemeteries.  In July 2010, a federal district judge ruled DOMA unconstitutional in both cases.  In February 2011, the Justice Department and President Obama determined that the administration would no longer defend DOMA in court -- and in fact the Assistant Attorney General for the Civil Divisions will appear in court today arguing that DOMA is unconstitutional.  In the Justice Department's place, the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) appealed the trial court decisions to the federal appeals court, and their hired counsel, former Solicitor General Paul Clement, will argue in support of DOMA today.

We applaud the continued courage and tenacity of GLAD, their courageous plaintiffs, and the Massachusetts Attorney General's office.  HRC has been proud to support these cases by joining an amicus ("friend of the court") brief and also helping to recruit businesses to join a brief detailing how DOMA harms their operations.

To learn more about how DOMA harms families, and the great work of GLAD in its case, check out this video:

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