Massachusetts has filed a challenge to
the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), Reuters reported.
The lawsuit filed Wednesday by
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley on behalf of the 16,000
gay and lesbian couples who have legally wed in Massachusetts since
the state legalized gay nuptials in 2004 challenges section 3 of
DOMA, which defines marriage as a heterosexual union for federal
agencies. Section 3 denies gay and lesbian couples federal benefits
such as federal income tax credits, employment and retirement
benefits, health insurance coverage, and Social Security payments.
The lawsuit does not challenge section
2 of DOMA, which allows states to ignore legal gay marriages
performed in other states.
“In enacting DOMA, Congress
overstepped its authority, undermined states' efforts to recognize
marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards
gay and lesbian people.”
“[S]ame-sex couples in Massachusetts
are still denied essential rights and protections because the federal
Defense of Marriage Act interferes with the Commonwealth's authority
to define and regulate marriage,” the lawsuit says.
Congress approved and then-President
Bill Clinton signed the legislation into law in 1996. Proponents
argued that without the legislation gay activists would win the right
to marry in a single state and foist it upon the remainder of the
nation. In the mid-90's such a state was Hawaii. In 1993, the
Hawaii Supreme Court ruled that denying gay and lesbian couples the
right to marry was unconstitutional. However, the court stayed the
ruling and by 1998 voters had placed a gay marriage ban in the state
constitution, effectively overruling the court's decision.
The suit is the fourth such challenge
filed against DOMA this year. Two lawsuits have been filed in
California, and another in Massachusetts.
The crush of lawsuits comes after a
busy spring when four states legalized – and the District of
Columbia recognized – gay marriage, and the California Supreme
Court upheld the constitutionality of a voter-approved gay marriage
ban, Proposition 8. Other states took more measured steps, granting
gay couples limited benefits with domestic partnerships, Nevada,
Wisconsin and Washington State included. (Washington State domestic
partnerships, however, offer gay couples all the benefits of
marriage.) In two states, Maine and Washington State, gay marriage
opponents are attempting to unravel lawmaker's actions.
Gay & Lesbian Advocates &
Defenders (GLAD), the Boston-based gay rights advocacy group at the
center of the gay marriage debate in New England, filed their section
3 DOMA challenge in March on behalf of eight gay married couples and
three surviving spouses from Massachusetts.
“DOMA represents an unprecedented
intrusion by the federal government into the traditional and
historical power of the states to make determinations of marital
status,” said Gary Buseck, legal director for GLAD, in a statement.
“By refusing to recognize any marriage of same-sex couples – and
by denying these couples access to all federal rights, protections
and responsibilities related to marriage – the federal government
steps in and overrides these state-sanctioned marriages.”
Today's legal challenge most closely
resembles GLAD's suit. Both focus narrowly on section 3, and victory
would not extend gay marriage beyond the borders of states that have
legalized it. But a broader DOMA lawsuit filed in California aims to
obliterate the legislation completely.
Chief litigator Ted Olson, President
George Bush's former solicitor general and a constitutional scholar,
has said he believes the lawsuit will reach the Supreme Court: “We
expect to win. The Supreme Court has repeatedly said the right to
marry is fundamental.”
President Obama has said he supports
repeal of DOMA and has urged lawmakers to approve such legislation,
but the Obama administration continues to defend the law in court.