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August 21, 2012

GLAD Asks U.S. Supreme Court to Hear Pedersen DOMA Challenge

Today, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) asked the Supreme Court to review Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management, a lawsuit challenging Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which prohibits federal recognition of the marriages of same-sex couples. GLAD is representing six married couples and a widower, from Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire, who have all been denied critical federal benefits because of DOMA.

“With each passing day, DOMA denies ordinary marital protections and heaps disrespect on our plaintiffs’ families, and thousands of married same-sex couples across the country,” says GLAD’s Mary L. Bonauto, co-lead counsel in Pedersen.

“Joanne Pedersen still cannot enroll her wife on her health insurance plan like other retirees from federal service. Lynda DeForge, like other workers whose spouses have serious medical conditions, still can’t take Family and Medical Leave Act leave to care for Raquel Ardin. Jerry Passaro continues to struggle without access to his late husband’s pension. The Artis, Kleinerman-Gehre and Savoy-Weiss families are each raising three children, but under DOMA pay extra federal income taxes or health insurance costs. DOMA even intrudes into the New Hampshire State Retirement System in denying a retired school teacher a health insurance subsidy for her spouse,” Bonauto adds. “These plaintiffs need to hear definitively from the Supreme Court whether or not the federal government will ultimately respect their love, commitment and legal bonds.” 

In a decision issued July 31, Judge Vanessa L. Bryant of the U.S. District Court of Connecticut ruled in Pedersen that DOMA Section 3 unconstitutionally discriminates against our plaintiffs. GLAD filed what is known as a petition for “certiorari before judgment”— giving the Supreme Court an opportunity to immediately review the district court decision.

Read the petition

Among the arguments GLAD makes in petitioning the Supreme Court for immediate review in Pedersen are: 
• the case raises a question of national importance;
• continued delay exacerbates the stigma and economic burdens on plaintiffs’ families and children;
• Congress has no legitimate interest in overriding state marriage policies where states license marriages and not the federal government;
• there is a practical need for a Supreme Court decision as there are conflicting decisions on DOMA’s constitutionality in various federal courts and additional challenges are pending;
• the Obama Administration is not defending the law in court but is still enforcing it, resulting in ever more lawsuits against DOMA; and
Pedersen is an exceptionally good case for the Court’s review because it demonstrates DOMA’s impact on a range of important federal programs like federal income tax, Social Security, federal employee and retiree benefits, and federal statutes (e.g. the Family & Medical Leave Act (FMLA) and the Employment Retirement Income Security Act (ERISA).

GLAD’s petition for certiorari in Pedersen comes after the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG), the congressional leadership body that is defending DOMA, and the Department of Justice each requested certiorari in our First Circuit Court DOMA challenge, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management. DOJ also filed a petition for certiorari before judgment in Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, a DOMA challenge from the Ninth Circuit Court.  Plaintiff Edith Schain Windsor also filed a petition for certiorari before judgment in her DOMA challenge, Windsor v. United States, currently pending in the Second Circuit Court.