Overview: The Six Current DOMA Lawsuits
March 01, 2011 5:54 pm ET by Carlos Maza
In the wake of the Obama administration's decision not to defend the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in federal court, Equality Matters spotlights the six main DOMA lawsuits currently working their way through the legal system.
[Via Stop8.org, 2/28/11]
Massachusetts v. United
States Department Of HHS et al
and Gill et al. v.
Office of Personnel Management et al.
The Cases: Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. United States Department Of Health And Human Services et al.: On July 8, 2009, the Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of section three of DOMA, arguing that it "codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people" as well as undermining each state's right to recognize marriages between same-sex couples.
A U.S. District Court Judge ruled in favor of the plaintiff, ruling that section three violates the Tenth Amendment and falls outside of Congress' authority under the Spending Clause.
Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management et al.: On March 3, 2009, Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) filed a lawsuit in Massachusetts' federal district court challenging section three of DOMA, arguing that the federal government should maintain deference to state interpretations of "marriage."
The same U.S. District Court Judge ruled for the plaintiffs, explaining that Section 3 of DOMA lacks a rational basis for discriminating against gay and lesbian couples.
The Circuit: Eventually, the two cases were consolidated. They were both appealed and sent to the First Circuit Court of Appeals.
Latest Action: On February 25, the Department of Justice notified the First Circuit Court of Appeals that it would "cease to defend" DOMA in both cases. Congress now has the opportunity to defend section three in either of the cases.
Dragovich v. US Department of the Treasury
The Case: In 2010, The Legal Aid Society filed a lawsuit for several California public employees who were unable to include their spouses in their long-term pension and health care benefit plans due to Section 3 of DOMA.
On January 18, 2011, Ninth Circuit Federal Judge Claudia Wilkin rejected the federal government's motion to dismiss the case in a response that left some believing she would eventually find Section 3 of DOMA to be unconstitutional.
The Circuit: Dragovich was filed in the Ninth Circuit.
Latest Action: The Obama administration did not directly mention Dragovich in its announcement about DOMA, though it now seems more likely that Judge Wilkin will find Section 3 to be unconstitutional.
Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management
The Case: In 2008, Karen Golinski, an employee of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, requested that her wife be added to her family health insurance plan. When the US Office of Personnel Management (OPM) refused, citing DOMA, Golinski filed a lawsuit in the Ninth U.S. Circuit. She won her case, but the OPM refused to abide by the order. Golinski eventually sued again in order to force the OPM to comply with the decision.
The Circuit: Golinski was filed in the Ninth Circuit.
Latest Action: Despite the Obama administration's decision not to defend Section 3's constitutionality, it recently insisted that the law itself must be enforced until it is repealed by Congress or ruled unconstitutional.
Pedersen et al v. Office of Personnel Management et al.
On November 9, 2010, GLAD filed a lawsuit against Section 3 of DOMA in the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut. GLAD again argued that Section 3 violated the Fifth Amendment and the federal government's history of deference to the states on marriage issues.
The Circuit: Pedersen et al. was filed in the Second Circuit.
Latest Action: On February 25, the Department of Justice informed the Second Circuit that it would not be defending Section 3 of DOMA in Pedersen. Congress still has the opportunity to defend Section 3 in the case.
Windsor v. United States
The Case: On November 9, 2010, Edith Windsor filed a lawsuit against the federal government for refusing to recognize her marriage to her partner of 44 years, Thea Spyer. When Thea passed away in 2009, Edith was forced to pay more than $350,000 in federal estates taxes that she would not have had to pay if the government had recognized her marriage to Thea. The lawsuit was filed in New York's District Court and claimed Section 3 violated the equal protection guarantee of the U.S. Constitution.
The Circuit: Windsor v. United States was filed in the Second Circuit, along with Pedersen.
Latest Action: On February 25, the Department of Justice informed the Second Circuit that it would not be defending Section 3 of DOMA in Windsor. Congress still has the opportunity to defend Section 3 in the case.