Update:  H/T to Law Dork who provides a link to the complaint and has a summary of the AG’s press conference.  Highlights and reactions from various organizations at bottom of post.


In a case led by Attorney General Martha Coakley, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is suing the US federal government, calling Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.  The case is called Commonwealth v. United States Department of Health and Human Services

Massachusetts, the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage, has become the first to challenge the constitutionality of a federal law that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, saying Congress intruded into a matter that should be left to individual states.

“In enacting DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act], Congress overstepped its authority, undermined states’ efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people,” the state said in a lawsuit filed today in US District Court in Massachusetts.

The suit said that more than 16,000 same-sex couples have married in Massachusetts since gay marriage became legal in the state in 2004 “and the security and stability of families has been strengthened in important ways throughout the state.”

“Despite these developments, same-sex couples in Massachusetts are still denied essential rights and protections because the federal Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] interferes with the Commonwealth’s authority to define and regulate marriage,” the lawsuit said.

Similar to the GLAD lawsuit, the Massachusetts suit is reportedly only challenging DOMA’s Section 3, which says

SEC. 3. DEFINITION OF MARRIAGE.

     (a) IN GENERAL- Chapter 1 of title 1, United States Code, is amended by adding at the end the following:

`Sec. 7. Definition of `marriage’ and `spouse’

     `In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word `marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word `spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.’.

     (b) CLERICAL AMENDMENT- The table of sections at the beginning of chapter 1 of title 1, United States Code, is amended by inserting after the item relating to section 6 the following new item:

           `7. Definition of `marriage’ and `spouse’.’.

In other words, it says that for the purposes of federal-level rights, responsibilities and benefits, only married heterosexuals need apply.

The Boston Globe reports that the basis of the challenge is the 10th Amendment to the US Constitution, which states The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people. and Article 1, Section 8 of the Constitution, which limits the power of Congress to matters of taxation and providing for the “common defense and general welfare” of the country.

Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) already has a lawsuit cooking against DOMA Section 3 called Gill v. Office of Personnel Management.  Not surprisingly, GLAD is praising the Commonwealth for entering the game.

In filing Commonwealth v. United States Department of Health and Human Services, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Attorney General Martha Coakley today uphold the Commonwealth’s long tradition as a national civil rights leader and take a major step towards ensuring that all its citizens are treated equally by the federal government. We applaud the Commonwealth’s move to protect legally married same-sex couples from the harms caused by federal discrimination.

Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) represents an unprecedented intrusion by the federal government into the traditional and historical power of the states to make determinations of marital status. By refusing to recognize any marriage of same-sex couples-and by denying these couples access to all federal rights, protections and responsibilities related to marriage-the federal government steps in and overrides these state-sanctioned marriages. The Commonwealth’s lawsuit seeks to uphold the traditional division of power between the federal and state governments as it has always been regarding marriage.

Same-sex couples have been marrying in Massachusetts for over five years. In March 2009, GLAD filed its own challenge to Section 3 of DOMA on behalf of six married same-sex couples and three men whose spouses had died. The issues in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management involve federal income taxes, Social Security, and federal employees’ and retirees’ benefits.

The federal government should treat these Massachusetts couples-and all married same-sex couples-the same as any other legally married couple, with all the benefits, protections and responsibilities that come with marriage. It’s a simple matter of fairness and equality. We have never had first and second-class marriages in this country. We should not start now.

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

For complete information about GLAD’s DOMA Section 3 challenge, visit www.glad.org/doma.

Further information is expected from AG Coakley’s office this afternoon.

Obama’s Department of Justice had better get it right this time.  If the DNC thought pissing of the gAyTM was a disaster, imagine pissing of The Cradle of Liberty.

Reaction…

HRC:

The Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender civil rights organization, today commends the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and Attorney General Martha Coakley for filing a federal challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”), which denies thousands of married same-sex couples in Massachusetts access to over 1,000 federal protections, benefits and obligations. This lawsuit, which names the United States and the Secretaries and Departments of Veterans affairs and Health and Human Services as defendants, marks the first time that a state has challenged the federal government’s discriminatory treatment of its LGBT citizens.

The complaint in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services et al points out that discrimination against same-sex married couples bears no nexus to the purposes of federal programs like Medicaid.

“The Commonwealth has presented the court with the stark facts of discrimination that should finally spell the end of DOMA,” said Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese. “Excluding our families from equal protections never had anything to do with promoting a legitimate interest, and has everything to do with discrimination.”

“DOMA was wrong, discriminatory and mean-spirited when it was enacted in 1996, and today it stands between thousands of married couples and the equal protections they deserve,” Solmonese said. “We applaud the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for stepping forward on behalf of these families and saying, in essence, ‘enough is enough.’ Now it is time for the federal government to take affirmative steps to challenge and repeal this discriminatory law that causes real harm to loving, married couples and their children.”

Kentucky Equality Federation:

Kentucky Equality Federation applauds the Commonwealth of Massachusetts for suing the U.S. government for intruding on states’ rights with the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act,” stated Kentucky Equality Federation President Jordan Palmer.  “This is a step in the right direction, a state [instead of its citizens] has said enough is enough; we demand full liberty and equality for our citizens now.”

Barney Frank’s office released this statement:

“Martha Coakley’s decision to join the lawsuit against the part of The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denies federal recognition of thousands of valid Massachusetts marriages deserves the support and gratitude of all of the state’s residents.

This is an important example of the legitimate use of the law both on behalf of the principle and the rights of tens of thousands of citizens of the Commonwealth.

I will be particularly interested to see how conservative defenders of states’ rights rebut Attorney General Coakley’s cogent argument of our rights as a state to defend marriage which has been cast aside by this law that she has challenged.”

BiNet USA

BiNet USA immediately repeated it’s support of any action that would result in the ultimate removal of DOMA, President Gary North saying “we applaud the action”.


Law Dork has provided a summary of the AG’s news conference.  Highlights are

Coakley begins by saying that the words of John Adams, in Massachusetts’ constitution, were determined in 2004 to mean that marriage must be available to all couples regardless of sexual orientation. After five years of living that experience, today, Massachusetts filed a lawsuit in federal District Court challenging Section 3 of DOMA.

Coakley gave three reasons for the suit:

  1. DOMA created a federal definition of marriage, directly interfering with Massachusetts’ longstanding soverign authority to determine who it determines are “married” under federal law.

  2. DOMA is a discriminatory law.

  3. DOMA places Mass. in the position of choosing whether to adapt its programs to fit federal law, but if it does so, it limits the ability of Mass. residents to have full equality under Mass. programs….

Among the commonwealth-specific harms Coakley cited are:

   * The commonwealth is affected when it provides health benefits because same-sex couples who choose to receive them are tax on those partners’ benefits, which “frankly creates a paperwork nightmare.”  She referred repeatedly to the “two-tiered” system the state had to create after 2004 as a result of DOMA.

   * DOMA requires that Mass treats individuals differently under public medical benefits like Medicaid and Medicare.

   * Mass. cannot inter the same-sex spouses of military veterans in federal military burial locations….

DOMA also violates the Spending Clause, the suit alleges.  One clear limitation is that Congress cannot compel the states to violate its states’ citizens state constitutional rights. This is interesting because it is something that is far more effectively raised by a state than any private party.

Law Dork quotes Coakley as saying that MA is open to the idea of consolidatin this suit with GLAD’s Gill suit. Read the whole report, with LD’s reactions, here.

Update:  H/T to Law Dork who provides a link to the complaint and has a summary of the AG’s press conference.  Highlights and reactions from various organizations at bottom of post.


In a case led by Attorney General Martha Coakley, The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is suing the US federal government, calling Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) unconstitutional.  The case is called Commonwealth v. United States Department of Health and Human Services

Massachusetts, the first state in the nation to legalize gay marriage, has become the first to challenge the constitutionality of a federal law that defines marriage as the union of a man and a woman, saying Congress intruded into a matter that should be left to individual states.

“In enacting DOMA [the Defense of Marriage Act], Congress overstepped its authority, undermined states’ efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people,” the state said in a lawsuit filed today in US District Court in Massachusetts.

The suit said that more than 16,000 same-sex couples have married in Massachusetts since gay marriage became legal in the state in 2004 “and the security and stability of families has been strengthened in important ways throughout the state.”

“Despite these developments, same-sex couples in Massachusetts are still denied essential rights and protections because the federal Defense of Marriage Act [DOMA] interferes with the Commonwealth’s authority to define and regulate marriage,” the lawsuit said.

(more…)

Laurel Ramseyer

Laurel Ramseyer

72 Comments