HRC Blog

Recap of GLAD Challenge to Defense of Marriage Act Hearing Yesterday

Yesterday, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro heard arguments in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, a challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders on behalf of eight married same-sex couples and three widowers.  The plaintiffs have been denied a broad range of rights and benefits under federal law that other married Massachusetts couples, simply because they are different-sex, can take for granted.  Yesterday, GLAD lawyers argued that DOMA’s denial of federal rights and benefits to lawfully-married same-sex couples violates the guarantee of equal protection under the U.S. Constitution and asked the court to grant summary judgment – in other words, decide just on the briefs filed and not conduct a trial – in the plaintiff’s favor.  You can read more about GLAD’s case here. Carisa Cunningham, GLAD's director of public affairs and education provided this first hand account:

It was sunny and warm as we headed to the Joseph Moakley Federal Courthouse on Boston's waterfront.  Eight married couples, three widowers, and as many attorneys marched into the courtroom of Federal District Judge Joseph L. Tauro.  The plaintiffs - all harmed by DOMA in various ways - sat in the jury box, and in an overflow courtroom next door, spectators could see them on two large flat-screen TVs. In the main courtroom, we squished together on the benches.  There was a lot of buzz as reporters and spectators waited for Judge Tauro's entrance at 10:30.  The 78-year-old jurist (whose father had been the chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court) entered with his robes open at the front.  He greeted us with a bright "good morning" and chided the audience for its meek response, which got a laugh. But we were soon down to serious business.  Mary Bonauto, GLAD's Civil Rights Project Director and the woman who argued and won the historic Goodridge case, was on her feet. “This is a classic equal protection issue. The Constitution applies to gay and lesbian citizens, and married ones, too,” Mary told the Court.  “What governmental purpose does the US have as an employer in treating some of its married employees, retirees and surviving annuitants differently from other married persons, such that Nancy Gill pays for a self and family plan like some of her married colleagues, but the plan doesn’t cover her own spouse?” Mary presented a three-pronged legal argument: 1) by singling out only the marriages of same-sex couples, DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution; 2) DOMA represents an unprecedented intrusion of the federal government into marriage law, which for 230 years has been legislated by states; and 3) by denying federal protections to families, DOMA burdens the marriages of same-sex couples and their right to maintain family integrity. Judge Tauro was attentive, thoughtful, and fully engaged.  He questioned Mary about rational basis vs. heightened scrutiny, but never caught her unprepared.  Then it was the federal government's turn.  W. Scott Simpson of the Department of Justice started and ended his argument by emphasizing the Obama administration's opposition to DOMA, but said their policy position "does not affect the statutes' constitutionality."  A fire alarm briefly interrupted his argument.  On the return of everyone to the courtroom, Mr. Simpson said that "individual states may experiment in the area of marriage" and that DOMA does not stop them from doing that.  No one in the room envied him having to make what seemed a fairly strained argument. We don't know when to expect a decision, and with our terrible office record of prognostication, I wouldn't even guess.  But we all left the courthouse feeling pretty good, pretty strong, and pretty hopeful.  Stay tuned to for more news.

HRC applauds the tremendous courage of the plaintiffs and the tremendous efforts of GLAD in bringing this case.  While GLAD and others fight this discriminatory law in the courts, we are working with a coalition of organizations to press Congress to pass the Respect for Marriage Act, legislation introduced in the House of Representatives last year by Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY).  This bill would repeal the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act and ensure that the all lawfully-married couples are treated equally by the federal government.  This bill has 109 co-sponsors, but there is not yet a Senate bill.  Members of Congress, and the President, need to hear from you about the importance of repealing DOMA – go to to take action today!

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