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Same-Sex Spouses Challenge DOMA

March 3, 2009

Lets Roll

We knew this day was coming, and yet the wait was a long one.  Bill Clinton signed DOMA back in 1996, and with his signature came a stain that will never be rationalized away, no matter how he or his supporters try.  It was wrong!

For too long there has been this series of platitudes at election time from Democratic politicians stating that ‘well yes, we agree that same sex-partners should have rights’, but what they forget to tell you on the way to whatever office they are seeking, is that nothing gets done in that regard with real meaning until we dynmite the DOMA law in court.

And that is what we start today.

Fifteen gay and lesbian residents from Massachusetts who wed after this state legalized same-sex marriages plan to file a discrimination suit today, challenging a federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Six same-sex couples and three men whose husbands have died – one of the deceased was retired congressman Gerry E. Studds – said in the suit that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act treats them like second-class citizens and is unconstitutional. The complaint is being filed in US District Court in Boston.

The suit, which legal specialists described as the first serious challenge to the federal law signed by President Bill Clinton, contends that the statute has deprived the plaintiffs of benefits enjoyed by heterosexual married couples.

Those benefits include health insurance for spouses of federal employees, tax deductions for couples who jointly file federal income tax returns, and the ability to use a spouse’s last name on a passport.

“It hurts,” said Dean T. Hara, who was married to Studds from May 2004 until the retired congressman’s death in October 2006, as he discussed the federal government’s denial of a $255 lump-sum death payment and thousands of dollars in benefits as the surviving spouse of a retired federal employee. “But at the same time I realize that I, as a man, need to stand up for what I believe in. This is a nation of laws, and we’re all supposed to have equal treatment under the law.”

Mary L. Bonauto, the civil rights lawyer for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders who was lead counsel in Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health – the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court case in 2003 that legalized same-sex marriage in the United States for the first time – said the suit asks the court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act because it targets gays and lesbians for discrimination.

“This is a case that should go to the Supreme Court and in all likelihood will go to the Supreme Court,” she said.

If the plaintiffs win, she said, it would not extend same-sex marriage beyond Massachusetts and Connecticut, the two states where it is legal.

But it would dismantle a federal statute that affects more than 1,000 marriage-related benefits, and it would be a huge victory on symbolic and practical levels for supporters of same-sex marriage, according to legal specialists.

“We’ve got this major federal statute that inflicts really substantial harm on very large numbers of gay people just for being gay people,” said Andrew Koppelman, a Northwestern University law professor. “The federal government declares to these people that it regards their marriages as worthless and would not give those marriages the protection and recognition that it gives to all other marriages. It’s quite significant if that is invalidated.”

One Comment
  1. Dennis permalink
    March 11, 2009 2:51 AM

    Yes, I hope it will overturn the DOMA, and make the gay and lesbian couples have the same federal rights. Hope that will not take too long.

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