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November 8, 2010

GLAD Files Second Suit Against Federal DOMA for Married Couples in Three More States

Married Couples from CT, VT & NH Denied Federal Recognition and Protections

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(November 9, 2010) Today Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) filed its second major, multi-plaintiff lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and the government’s denial of protections and responsibilities to married gay and lesbian couples. Today’s action specifically addresses married couples in Connecticut, Vermont,  and New Hampshire, and comes on the heels of GLAD’s Massachusetts Federal District Court ruling this summer finding DOMA Section 3 unconstitutional.

“DOMA must fall.  In 1996, when Congress passed DOMA, the stated goal was to harm gay people and same-sex families with this law, and sadly, it has succeeded.  Married gay and lesbian couples fall through the federal safety nets that exist for other married people,” said Mary L. Bonauto, Civil Rights Project Director for GLAD.  “We have to keep the pressure on and get DOMA off the books before it does even more harm.”

In Pedersen et al. v. Office of Personnel Management, GLAD represents five married same-sex couples and a widower who have all been denied federal rights and protections simply because they are married to a person of the same sex.

”Getting married was extremely meaningful to Ann and me,” said Joanne Pedersen, who, with her spouse Ann Meitzen, is a plaintiff.  “We were shocked to discover that the federal government essentially looks on ours as a second-class marriage.”

Filed today in Federal District Court in Connecticut, this suit addresses DOMA’s denial of marriages in connection with federal employees and retirees benefits programs, Social Security benefits, survivor benefits under federal pension laws, work leave to care for a spouse under the Family Medical Leave Act, and state retiree health insurance benefits that are controlled by federal tax law.  Several plaintiffs who have paid additional federal income taxes because they cannot file a joint federal tax return as a married couple will join the suit once they are officially turned down for refunds from the IRS.

Also today, the American Civil Liberties Union, the law firm Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton, and Garrison, and the New York Civil Liberties Union, filed a different lawsuit challenging DOMA, Windsor v. USA

“Every day that DOMA stands, it arbitrarily divides married couples into two categories,”  said Gary D. Buseck, GLAD’s Legal Director. “And the extra burdens that DOMA has imposed on Massachusetts families since 2004 are now being endured by families in Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire.”

Passed in 1996, DOMA Section 3, now codified at 1 U.S.C. section 7, limits the marriages the federal government will respect to those between a man and a woman.  Section 2 of DOMA—not at issue in GLAD’s lawsuit—allows states to establish public policies about what marriages they will and will not respect.

In both Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management, GLAD’s earlier DOMA case, and now in Pedersen, GLAD argues that DOMA Section 3 violates the federal constitutional guarantee of equal protection.  GLAD also contends that DOMA Section 3 is an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government into the law of marriage, always considered the province of the states.

While Pedersen v. OPM focuses on certain federal programs, DOMA Section 3 cuts across virtually every area of federal law.  Married same-sex couples cannot, for example, rely on the protections accorded to military families to provide for their spouses, or sponsor a foreign spouse to reside in this country.

Each of the plaintiffs in Pedersen was qualified for and applied for a spousal benefit or protection like other spouses.  However, because the relevant agencies had no choice but to apply DOMA, and DOMA prohibits any federal recognition of the lawful marriages of gay and lesbian couples, all the protections were denied.

The current plaintiffs in Pedersen v. OPM are the following: 

Joanne Pedersen (57) and Ann Meitzen (60) of Connecticut have been together for 12 years, and were married in 2008.  Joanne, a retiree from the Department of Naval Intelligence, is unable to put Ann, who has serious and chronic lung conditions, on her health insurance plan.

Jerry Passaro (45) of Connecticut was married in 2008 to Tom Buckholz, his partner of 13 years.  Tom died two months later of lymphoma. While still grieving, Jerry discovered that because of DOMA, Tom’s employer could not provide him survivor benefits on Tom’s pension.  He has also been denied Social Security death benefits.

Raquel Ardin (56) and Lynda DeForge (54) of Vermont have been together for over 30 years, and were married in 2009 by Raquel’s 89-year-old father, who lives with them.  Lynda, a postal employee, was denied family medical leave to care for Raquel, who needs regular and painful injections into her neck because of a military service-connected injury. Lynda could not use FMLA to care for Raquel after knee surgery this year.

Janet Geller (64) and Jo Marquis (70) of New Hampshire have been together for 31 years and were married in May 2010.  Both are retired schoolteachers.  Jan is unable to receive a health benefit from Jo’s retiree plan because of DOMA, which places additional financial burdens on them during their retirement.

Two other couples will soon be added to the case:

Suzanne (39) and Geraldine (40) Artis of Connecticut have been together for 17 years and married in 2009.  They have three school-aged sons.  Suzanne is a school librarian. Geraldine, a teacher by profession, has recently undergone three back surgeries and is unable to work. They pay at least $1500 more in income taxes each year because of DOMA.

Bradley Kleinerman (47) and James “Flint” Gehre (44) of Connecticut have been together for 19 years and married in 2009.  They have three sons that they adopted after serving as foster parents.  Flint, a former police officer and teacher, is now a stay-at-home dad, while Brad works in human resources. Because of DOMA, they pay at least $1500 more in income taxes each year.

GLAD’s legal team in Pedersen is led by Mary L. Bonauto and GLAD Legal Director Gary D. Buseck, with Staff Attorneys Janson Wu and legal fellows Liz Monnin-Browder and Ashley Dunn.  Co-operating counsel on the case include Sullivan & Worcester LLP (Boston), Jenner & Block LLP (Washington, DC), and Horton, Shields & Knox (Hartford).

More information Pedersen, including the complaint and biographical information about the plaintiffs can be found at www.glad.org/doma.

For more information on Windsor, visit www.aclu.org/Edie.

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Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders is New England's leading legal organization dedicated to ending discrimination based on sexual orientation, HIV status, and gender identity and expression.