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May 6, 2010

Arguing For Equality in Federal Court

This morning in Boston eight married same-sex couples and three widowers went to Federal District Court to hear arguments in their challenge to Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA defines marriage as only between a man and a woman for all purposes under federal law.

“This is a classic equal protection issue. The constitution applies to gay and lesbian citizens, married ones, too,” Mary L. Bonauto, GLAD’s Civil Rights Project Director, told the Court.  “What governmental purpose does the US have as an employer in treating some of its married employees, retirees and surviving annuitants differently from other married persons, such that Nancy Gill pays for a self and family plan like some of her married colleagues, but the plan doesn’t cover her own spouse?”

Bonauto presented a three-pronged legal argument: By singling out only the marriages of same-sex couples, DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the United States Constitution; DOMA represents an unprecedented intrusion of the federal government into marriage law, which for 230 years has been legislated by states; and by denying federal protections to families, DOMA burdens the marriages of same-sex couples and their right to maintain family integrity.

U.S. District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro heard today’s arguments in a courtroom packed with spectators and media. Judge Tauro heard GLAD’s motion for summary judgment as well as the federal government’s motion to dismiss. The hearing addressed the core issue of whether DOMA Section 3 is constitutional six years after the first same-sex couples in the country started marrying in Massachusetts, the result of GLAD’s groundbreaking marriage case, Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.

“DOMA means that our country doesn’t treat our family or our marriage as equal to our friends’ and coworkers’ families,” said plaintiff Nancy Gill after the hearing. A U.S. Postal Service employee, Gill with her spouse Marcelle Letourneau is raising two children in Brockton. “Under DOMA, we are not married, and my federal employer must deny Marcelle my health benefits. Under DOMA Marcelle won’t receive the federal health benefit given to surviving spouses. She’ll also be denied my pension benefits.”

Read more

Video: Press Conference Following the Hearing

In the News:
Advocate: Federal Court Hears DOMA Challenge
New York Times: Marriage Law is Challenged as Equaling Discrimination
Boston Globe: Case Is Made vs. U.S. Marriage Law
NPR: Gay Couples Challenge Defense of Marriage Act
AP: Gay Couples Ask Judge to Toss US Marriage Law