Nov. 10, 2010
BOSTON — A new lawsuit is challenging the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which bans gay marriage at the federal level. The case comes on the heels of the Massachusetts court ruling that found DOMA unconstitutional.
The Gay and Lesbian Legal Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), is leading the case, Pederson et. al. vs. Office of Personnel Management, on behalf of five same-sex married couples and one widower from Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire. The couples say DOMA denies them the same federal rights as heterosexual couples, including health and social security benefits and federal tax breaks.
The case was filed in Connecticut, which legalized gay marriage in 2008. The next year, Geraldine Artis, who’s a plaintiff in this case, married her longtime partner Suzanne. But the Artises aren’t allowed to file their federal taxes jointly as a married couple, because the federal government doesn’t recognize their union. Geraldine Artis says that as a result, they’ve had to pay more money on their taxes than other married couples — money that they need for their three boys:
“This hurts our family financially. It’s impacted our ability as parents to save for our kids college funds and we’re also forced to make choices about which activities our children can participate in," Artis said. "All of our children love to sing and would love to play a musical instrument, but we’re not able to provide that for them at this time.”
Mary Bonauto, the lead lawyer in the case, says that DOMA is discriminatory and deliberately sets out to harm gay and lesbian couples who decide to marry.
"The federal government is barring these people from programs that would allow them to take better care of themselves, each other and their children," Bonauto said. "We think there is no legitimate reason whatsoever for the federal government to take one group of people who are already married, and treat them differently from every other married couple.”
In a similar case over the summer, a Federal judge in Boston ruled DOMA unconstitutional. The Obama administration is appealing the decision. It says that while it believes DOMA should be repealed, it has a responsibility to uphold previous acts of Congress. And groups like the National Organization for Marriage say that liberal states have no right to force same-sex marriage on the rest of the country.
But the effort to fight DOMA is gathering steam. This new lawsuit expands the attack to three more states. And the ACLU has filed a lawsuit against DOMA in New York. The goal is to build enough momentum to propel the case to the Supreme Court. Lawyers say that the earliest that would happen is in 2013.