Thursday, July 8, 2010

Judge rules Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional

Good news!  U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled today in two companion lawsuits that section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional!  (Read the decisions:  Gill v. OPM and Massachusetts v. HHS).

"The next step in the case is for the federal government to decide whether it will appeal Judge Tauro’s ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit. That decision should come within the next 60 days."  - GLAD's website

Background:  seven same-sex married couples and three widowers from Massachusetts sued the federal government because their legal marriages are not recognized by the federal government under section 3 of the 1996 Defense of Marriage (DOMA).  DOMA, a blanket rejection of any marriage between persons of the same sex, hurts gay families in many ways:  You can't sponsor your spouse for a green card, or collect social security survivor benefits when she dies, or file a joint tax return, or (if a federal employee) cover your spouse on your health insurance plan.

One of the two lawsuits is Gill v. OPM, argued by GLAD (Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders).   (The lawsuit does not challenge the rest of DOMA, which says a state can choose not to recognize same-sex marriages performed in another state.)  (NY Times summary of the case from 3/2009.)  The other lawsuit is Commonwealth of Mass v. Dept. of HHS.

Judge Tauro's 39-page opinion in Gill v. OPM includes several choice bits of sarcasm:

Furthermore, this court seriously questions whether it may even consider preservation of the status quo to be an “interest” independent of some legitimate governmental objective that preservation of the status quo might help to achieve.  Staying the course is not an end in and of itself, but rather a means to an end."

"... federal agencies merely distribute federal marriage-based benefits to those couples that have already obtained state-sanctioned marriage licenses.  That task does not become more administratively complex simply because some of those couples are of the same sex.  Nor does it become more complex simply because some of the couples applying for marriage-based benefits were previously ineligible to marry.  Every heterosexual couple that obtains a marriage license was at some point ineligible to marry due to the varied age restrictions placed on marriage by each state.  Yet the federal administrative system finds itself adequately equipped to accommodate their changed status."

"In fact, as Plaintiffs suggest, DOMA seems to inject complexity into an otherwise straightforward administrative task by sundering the class of state-sanctioned marriages into two, those that are valid for federal purposes and those that are not. As such, this court finds the suggestion of potential administrative burden in distributing marriage-based benefits to be an utterly unpersuasive excuse for the classification created by DOMA."

"It strains credulity to suggest that Congress might have created such a sweeping status-based enactment, touching every single federal provision that includes the word marriage or spouse, simply in order to further the discrete goal of consistency in the distribution of federal marriage-based pecuniary benefits."

1 comment:

dr. dave said...

Looks like Massachusettes is making even more progress on this issue than we realized...,1135/