Federal Court Declares Part of Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional
July 09, 2010
Yesterday, Judge Joseph Tauro of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services, declaring the denial of federal rights and benefits to lawfully married Massachusetts couples under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional. Judge Tauro, who was nominated to the bench by President Richard Nixon, held in Gill that DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws, concluding that “indeed, Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves. And such a classification, the Constitution clearly will not permit.” These decisions are likely to be appealed by the Department of Justice to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.
HRC President Joe Solmonese commented:
“Today’s decision is a confirmation of what every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender American knows to be a basic truth – we, and our families, are equal. This is an important step forward, but there is a long path ahead before we see this discriminatory law consigned to the dustbin of history. We thank our friends at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, their courageous plaintiffs and Attorney General Coakley for standing up on behalf of married same-sex couples across the country and for their continued commitment to equality as these cases move forward. Judge Tauro’s decisions make clear that there is no constitutional justification for DOMA, despite the Department of Justice’s contentions in defending the statute. While we expect the Department to continue to defend DOMA on appeal, we urge the Obama administration to push Congress to repeal a law that we know, and Judge Tauro recognized, serves no purpose but to denigrate our families.”
For some background, in March 2009, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (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.