Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley wasn’t able to hold onto the late Ted Kennedy’s Senate seat for the Democrats, but she got my vote for supporting this lawsuit against the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 federal law prohibiting the U.S. government from recognizing same-sex marriages in any context. The AG’s office argued that the U.S. Constitution leaves the definition of marriage up to the states. Since gay marriage is legal here, the federal government shouldn’t force Massachusetts to discriminate in distributing federal benefits.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) brought a companion case on behalf of several gay couples who argued that DOMA violated their equal protection rights with regard to federal income tax, Social Security, and federal employee benefits for Massachusetts residents. GLAD was also behind the lawsuit that led to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s landmark gay marriage ruling in 2003.
On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled in both cases that Section 3 of DOMA was unconstitutional. Read the decision and GLAD’s press release here . Read more analysis in The Advocate magazine here . Visit the Courage Campaign website to send President Obama a message urging him not to appeal the ruling.
From The Advocate article:
…“Today the court simply affirmed that our country won’t tolerate second-class marriages,” said GLAD Civil Rights Project director Mary Bonauto, who argued the case. “I’m pleased that Judge Tauro recognized that married same-sex couples and surviving spouses have been seriously harmed by DOMA and that the plaintiffs deserve the same opportunities to care and provide for each other and for their children that other families enjoy. This ruling will make a real difference for countless families in Massachusetts.”
In his 39-page opinion in Gill, Tauro dismissed lawmakers’ intentions in passing DOMA to “encourag[e] responsible procreation and child-bearing,” among other identified societal aims.
“Even if Congress believed at the time of DOMA’s passage that children had the best chance at success if raised jointly by their biological mothers and fathers, a desire to encourage heterosexual couples to procreate and rear their own children more responsibly would not provide a rational basis for denying federal recognition to same-sex marriages,” Tauro wrote. “Such denial does nothing to promote stability in heterosexual parenting.
Preserving marriage as a one-man, one-woman institution for the interests of “responsible procreation” was a central argument for attorneys defending Prop. 8 in federal court — one that faced similar scrutiny during closing arguments last month from U.S. district judge Vaughn R. Walker, who has yet to reach a decision in the case.
In oral arguments in May, Bonauto argued in Gill that the government has no reason to withhold the more than 1,000 federal benefits of marriage from same-sex couples, noting that a 1996 House Judiciary Committee report “explicitly stated the purpose of DOMA was to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.”
In Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Health and Human Services, Maura T. Healey, chief of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division, told Tauro during oral arguments that Section 3 violates the state’s right under the federal constitution to sovereign authority to define and regulate the marital status of its residents. Healey called DOMA an “animus-based national marriage law” that intrudes on core state authority and “forces the state to discriminate against its own citizens.”
Christopher Hall, representing the Department of Health and Human Services, argued that Congress should be able to control the meaning of terms, such as “marriage,” used in its own statutes, and should be able to control how federal money is allocated for federal benefits provided to people based on their marital status.
In considering whether the federal government had any legitimate need for DOMA, both Bonauto and Healey had urged Tauro to apply strict scrutiny review, which requires the government to show a compelling reason for a law that affects a fundamental right or a vulnerable group. In both lawsuits, however, Tauro said that DOMA failed to meet even the most simple judicial review, rational basis.
Also of interest in The Advocate’s June-July issue, a profile of Mary Glasspool, the new suffragan bishop of Maryland and the first openly lesbian bishop in the U.S. Episcopal Church. My favorite quote:
…Why is the issue of sexual identity so difficult for so many churches—Episcopal or otherwise? “I think the basic issue is gender,” Glasspool says. “And one can see this being played out in the Roman Catholic Church. The issue is the status and role of women, and the balance of the feminine and masculine in the way in which we experience and encounter God. Where we allow women to be in positions of leadership and power and authority, we have a more balanced view of the community that is the world.”
Peace be with you, Bishop Glasspool!