Mass. AG Challenges Federal DOMA
July 8, 2009
Today the Commonwealth of Massachusetts filed a federal challenge to Section 3 the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) as applied to Massachusetts citizens who are legally married (read HRC’s press release). The Attorney General’s complaint in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services, et al alleges that DOMA violates the United States Constitution by overstepping Congress’s power and legislating on a topic reserved for the states, and by conditioning funds for programs like Medicaid on Massachusetts discriminating against some of its married citizens. So what does it all mean? On a big-picture level, it means that Massachusetts is standing up for its citizens. For the first time, a state government has gone to federal court to vindicate the rights of LGBT people. On a practical level, the case shows how DOMA affects the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. This example says so much about the ridiculous law:
The federal government provides Massachusetts funds to operate veterans’ cemeteries. Under federal law, only veterans or their spouses can be buried in these cemeteries. Federal funding is conditioned upon the state permitting only eligible persons. And because of DOMA, same-sex spouses do not qualify. In other words, if Massachusetts allows a same-sex spouse of a veteran to be buried side-by-side with that veteran, the federal government can take away all of the funds for the cemetery.
Think about it. Massachusetts citizens—LGBT or not—pay their federal taxes. In fact, Massachusetts citizens on the whole pay far more taxes than the state receives back in federal expenditures, making it a so-called “donor state.” But because of DOMA, the federal government can deny Massachusetts the funds that its taxpayers contribute, precisely because the Commonwealth led the country in recognizing our equality under law. In this example, it also dishonors veterans who risked their lives equally but are treated unequally even in death. When someone tells you that DOMA doesn’t matter, or that it’s just a law that Congress could enact to “protect” marriage, push back like Massachusetts has: tell them that it’s unconstitutional. Tell them that DOMA forces states to discriminate in something as basic as laying a veteran to rest next to the person that they loved during life. This post contributed by Lara Schwartz, HRC legal director and chief legislative counsel.
May 22, 2013