Today, a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional as a violation of equal protection guarantees. Her ruling comes with respect to claims brought by six married same-sex couples and one widower from the states of Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont who were denied federal tax, social security, pension and family medical leave protections only because they are (or were) married to someone of the same sex. Under the ruling, the plaintiffs’ marriages must be accorded the same federal protections and responsibilities as those of other married couples.
The ruling by Judge Vanessa L. Bryant, an appointee of President George W. Bush, stems from the lawsuit Pedersen et al v. Office of Personnel Management et al, filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in November 2010 in the Federal District Court in Connecticut.
“Section 3 of DOMA obligates the federal government to single out a certain category of marriages as excluded from federal recognition,” Judge Bryant wrote, “thereby resulting in an inconsistent distribution of federal marriage benefits as all marriages authorized by certain states will receive recognition and marital benefits, whereas only a portion of marriages authorized by other states will receive federal recognition and benefits.”
“Judge Bryant’s ruling is very clear: married people are married and should be treated as such by the federal government. There is no legitimate basis for DOMA’s broad disrespect of the marriages of same-sex couples,” said Mary L. Bonauto, GLAD’s Civil Rights Project Director. “We are very pleased that the Court recognized that DOMA’s creation of second-class marriages harms our clients who simply seek the same opportunities to care and provide for each other and for their children that other families enjoy.”
“I’m thrilled that the court ruled that our marriage commitment should be respected by the federal government just as it is in our home state of Connecticut,” said Joanne Pedersen, who is a plaintiff with her spouse, Ann Meitzen. “I loved working for the Navy for many years, and now that I am retired I now just want to care for my wife and make sure we can enjoy some happy and healthy years together. DOMA has prevented us from doing that.”
Pedersen retired from a civilian position with the U.S. Department of the Navy after 30 years, the last 12 as a Special Security Officer for the Office of Naval Intelligence. Because of DOMA, she is unable to cover Ann on her health insurance plan—as other federal employees and retirees can. As a result, Ann and Joanne, who are living on fixed incomes, are forced to pay out of pocket for Ann’s insurance at significant cost.
The next step in the case is an inevitable appeal of the District Court ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from the interveners in the case – the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) of the U.S. House of Representatives. BLAG intervened to defend DOMA from equal protection challenges after President Obama declared he would no longer defend the law in response to this case and Windsor v. United States. That appeal should come within the next 60 days.
The plaintiffs in the Pedersen case were all qualified for, and applied for, protections available to other married couples, but were denied on the grounds that Section 3 of DOMA requires the federal government not to recognize the existing marriages of same-sex couples. The specific harms include denials of Family Medical Leave Act benefits, federal laws for private pension plans, federal laws concerning state pension plans, federal income taxation, social security benefits, and employment benefits for federal employees and retirees.
Judge Bryant’s ruling continues the momentum building in federal courts across the country – including the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, which ruled against DOMA in our challenge, Gill v. OPM on May 31 – finding Section 3 of the law unconstitutional. On June 6, a New York District Court judge ruled Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional in the Windsor case. Back in February, a California District Court judge declared DOMA Section 3 unconstitutional as applied to a federal judicial employee in the case Golinski v. OPM.
The Pedersen case could now be joined on appeal with Windsor, in which the ACLU and the law firm Paul Weiss represent Edie Windsor, a widow who had to pay a sizable tax after her spouse’s death. Other cases are pending in other venues addressing health insurance coverage, long term care benefits for state employees, military benefits for active and retired military personnel, National Guard members and veterans.
Co-operating counsel on Pedersen are Jenner & Block LLP (Washington, DC), Horton, Shields & Knox (Hartford), and Sullivan & Worcester LLP (Boston). Go to for more information.
Read Judge Bryant’s ruling

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Through strategic litigation, public policy advocacy, and education, GLBTQ Legal Advocates & Defenders works in New England and nationally to create a just society free of discrimination based on gender identity and expression, HIV status, and sexual orientation.