HRC Applauds Federal Appeals Court Ruling Against Defense of Marriage Act

by HRC Staff

Historic Decision is First by Federal Appeals Court to Invalidate Discriminatory Law


Washington– The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) civil rights organization, today applauded a ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in which it upheld a lower court’s decision that the denial of federal rights and benefits to lawfully-married same-sex couples is unconstitutional.  The ruling – authored by President George H.W. Bush appointee Judge Boudin for the three judge panel – comes in two cases: Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders on behalf of married Massachusetts same-sex couples who were denied specific federal rights and benefits and Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services, brought by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts itself.   

“This ruling is a historic victory for loving gay and lesbian couples and their children,” said HRC President Joe Solmonese.  “For the first time, a federal appeals court has recognized that our constitution will not tolerate a law that forces the federal government to deny lawfully-married same-sex couples equal treatment.  The writing is clearly on the wall for the demise of this unjust and indefensible law that hurts real families.”     

Currently, six states and the District of Columbia allow same-sex couples to marry.  This year, legislatures in Maryland and Washington State approved marriage equality laws, but they are not yet in effect and are likely to be subject to popular referenda.  Under a 1996 law, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), even lawfully-married couples cannot be recognized by the federal government, and as a result are denied access to more than 1,100 rights, benefits and responsibilities under federal law.  These include Social Security survivor benefits, federal employee health benefits for spouses, protections against spouses losing their homes in cases of severe medical emergencies, the right to sponsor a foreign born partner for immigration, the guarantee of family and medical leave and the ability to file joint tax returns, among many others.

“We applaud GLAD, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the courageous plaintiffs for their incredible efforts on behalf of gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts and across the nation,” said Solmonese

In July 2010, a federal district court judge ruled in the Gill and Massachusetts cases that DOMA is unconstitutional.  Two other federal district courts and a federal bankruptcy court have subsequently agreed.  Because the Obama Administration’s Justice Department has decided not to defend DOMA in court, the House Republican leadership through the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group is currently defending DOMA.  They are likely to appeal today’s ruling, either to larger panel of the First Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Human Rights Campaign is America's largest civil rights organization working to achieve lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender equality. By inspiring and engaging all Americans, HRC strives to end discrimination against LGBT citizens and realize a nation that achieves fundamental fairness and equality for all.

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