Discrimination | DOMA | Gay Marriage | Gay Rights | Gerry Studds | Massachusetts | News

Group Files Federal Challenge to Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)


The plaintiffs: left to right, top top bottom (above): Nancy Gill & Marcelle Letourneau, Melba Abreu & Beatrice Hernandez, Martin (Al ) Koski & Jim Fitzgerald, Keigh & Al Toney, Better Jo Green & Jo Ann Whitehead, Dean Hara, Mary Ritchie & Kathy Bush, Dorene & Mary Bowe-Shulman, Herbert Burtis, Marlin Nabors & Jonathan Knight, Randell Lewis Kendell. Information via GLAD.


Eight Massachusetts couples and three widowers and Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) plan to file suit today challenging provisions in section three of the federal Defense of Marriage Act that deny them access to pensions, health insurance, and other benefits received by married couples.

Although the suit has a narrow focus, Janson Wu, an attorney for GLAD, told Bay Windows that he felt a favorable ruling would deal a "crippling blow to DOMA as a whole.

Bay Windows reports: "If successful the suit would overturn only those specific provisions of DOMA, not the entire statute, which prevents federal recognition of any same-sex marriage and also allows states to deny recognition of same-sex marriages performed in other states."

The plaintiffs include Dean Hara, widower of the late congressman Gerry Studds,
Herb Burtis, a 78-year-old voice teacher who lost his partner of 60 years from Parkinson's disease last August and cared for him for the last 16 years of his life yet is denied the full benefits of his partner's Social Security.

Two of the plaintiffs are Mary Ritchie and her spouse Kathleen Bush: "Ritchie, a Massachusetts State Police trooper, has been married for almost five years and has two children. But when she files her federal income tax return, she's not allowed to check the 'married filing jointly' box."

The NYT reports: "Because same-sex marriage is allowed in only two states, Massachusetts and Connecticut, the number of spouses who are denied such benefits is fairly small. But Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, the group planning to file the federal suit, believes the number will grow as more states consider granting gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. At least eight other states, including New York, are considering same-sex marriage bills. 'In our view, it’s a straightforward equal-protection issue,' said Mary L. Bonauto, civil rights project director for the group, referring to the constitutional mandate that laws be applied equally to everyone."

Said Wu: "Our legal argument is that [the portions of section three targeted in the lawsuit are] a violation of our federal government’s guarantee to treat citizens equally by refusing to recognize the marriages only of same-sex couples, and that principle of equality should apply in other contexts if we’re successful...[The case] certainly can and may reach the Supreme Court level, and we think the Supreme Court is receptive to these fundamental notions of equality and the balance between federal and state governments."

BONUS VIDEO: Janson Wu speaks at about marriage discrimination at a Boston rally in January, AFTER THE JUMP...

Overview of lawsuit [PDF]
GLAD challenges federal DOMA [bay windows]
Married gays in Mass. sue US for federal benefits [ap]
Suit Seeks to Force Government to Extend Benefits to Same-Sex Couples [nyt]

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  1. And while they are fighting DOMA, the government is paying to promote straight marriage.


    They have created this site:


    5 Millon tax payer dollars to promote marriage to straight people. Pictures of happy straight couples.

    New Administration - Same Back of the Bus Discrimination.

    So if federal dollars are promoting straight marriage, I don't have much hope for DOMA.

    Posted by: kujhawker | Mar 3, 2009 7:41:00 AM

  2. I wish these people all the luck in the world. DOMA is just a big pile of discrimination.

    Thanks for posting the link to www.twoofus.org, Kujhawker. I find it offensive (and yes, discriminatory) that my tax dollars paid for that website. Why does the government think they need to educate people on how to interact with each other? That's so unbelievably stupid. Then they pretend that gay people don't even exist! It just boggles my mind.

    Posted by: David in Houston | Mar 3, 2009 8:12:39 AM

  3. ****we think the Supreme Court is receptive to these fundamental notions of equality and the balance between federal and state governments."****

    Hate to say it, but that statement is completely delusional. I've got a very bad feeling about this lawsuit...like Bowers v Hardwick bad feeling.

    Posted by: MAJeff | Mar 3, 2009 8:14:58 AM

  4. A good rule of thumb is that if Lambda Legal isn't involved, then the lawsuit is an ill-advised publicity stunt and almost certain to fail.

    Posted by: KipEsquire | Mar 3, 2009 8:30:46 AM

  5. Kipewquire,

    The folks at GLAD are the ones responsible for Baker v. Vermont (which gave Civil Unions there), Goodridge v. Department of Public Health (Marriage in Massachusetts), and Kerrigan-Mock v. Department of Public Health (Marriage in Connecticut). They've won cases before SCOTUS, and are an integral part of the LGBT legal movement. Might want to inform yourself.

    Posted by: MAJeff | Mar 3, 2009 8:38:12 AM

  6. Ditto, MAJEFF re: KIPESQUIRE's remark. I know Mary Bonauto's (GLAD's Civil Rights Project Director) work via the successful Baker v. Vermont case, and she--and, I trust, GLAD--would not participate in "an ill-advised publicity stunt." They know their stuff. I'm no lawyer and have no idea whether this will be successful, but the arguments are strong and need to be made. Let the challenge begin.

    Posted by: Ernie | Mar 3, 2009 10:29:57 AM

  7. I will be quite interested to see if and how the Obama Justice Department defends against the suit.

    Posted by: silverkjk | Mar 3, 2009 10:56:05 AM

  8. Thanks Kipewquire and MAJEFF - We at GLAD have a long history of legal victories that have changed the legal landscape for GLBT persons and those living with HIV/AIDS. For thirty years GLAD has stood as New England's premier impact litigation firm working on full equality for our community. And, our work is not limited to marriage - GLAD has fought and won cases on transgender non-discrimination in public schools, ensuring access to medical treatments for those living with AIDS, combating a discriminatory adoption policy in the state of MA,and securing victim compensation for same-sex partners of 9-11 victims - just to name a few of our hard won victories. For more info visit our website: www.glad.org.

    Posted by: Alton C | Mar 3, 2009 11:53:41 AM

  9. I stand by my comment -- If Lambda Legal thought this case were viable, then they would have lent their support, as they did in Goodridge and Baker. They did not do so here.

    Posted by: KipEsquire | Mar 3, 2009 1:36:29 PM

  10. kipesquire -- as the others have said, GLAD is the organization that got us -- and kept us -- marriage in Massachusetts. They are an awesome organization, one of the (if not the) best legal advocacy groups in the country, for any cause.

    GLAD and Lambda are similar orgs, but with distinct geographic boundaries. GLAD is exclusive to New England; Lambda got the rest of the country in the settlement.

    In many respects, this makes GLAD's job a bit easier: they can focus on a tight-knit region, and it makes office space easier to handle.

    And you can be certain that GLAD and Lambda communicate on these things.

    Finally, your rule of thumb _IS_ valid, more or less, if modified a bit: if GLAD or Lambda is not involved, watch out. Of course, if GLAD's involved -- watch out too, but in a very good way.

    This particular case was GLAD's and GLAD's alone, because only MA and CT have full marriage rights.

    Posted by: tjc | Mar 3, 2009 1:37:52 PM

  11. I do enjoy reading the literate and reasoned comments. Unfortunately, I don't think I posses either of those admirable qualities.

    The timing is ill advised. The probable ruling will be a much worse obstacle to overcome then DOMA. This case and ruling will set us back. There have been 8 years of Cheney/Rove judges filling the Federal bench, (let alone SCOTUS). This is a feel-good masturbatory stunt that will cost all of us.

    Posted by: Brix | Mar 3, 2009 4:13:49 PM

  12. Obviously some people don't know GLAD and its history. They would not be filing this suit if they didn't think it has a good chance of winning. It is very narrow in scope, and it sounds to me like it would be hard to argue that DOMA does not discriminate against married gay people at the Federal level.

    Posted by: Kevinvt | Mar 3, 2009 6:45:14 PM

  13. As the Legal Director of Lambda Legal, I want to make clear that we have tremendous respect for the amazing work and consistently wise judgment of our colleagues at GLAD. We and the lawyers at other LGBT organizations have consistently counseled that a challenge to federal non-recognition of lawful marriages should not be brought precipitously. Instead, we have explained that any such case would need to be carefully planned and executed. GLAD has done just that. Their suit appropriately focuses on individual harms caused by the federal government's unprecedented discriminatory treatment of one class of a state's valid marriages and it has surmounted the many procedural and substantive hurdles that could derail a less expertly crafted suit. As the lawyers who won the Massachusetts marriage case, it was appropriate for GLAD to be the organization to bring this challenge to the federal government's unequal treatment of the marriages same-sex couples have entered in that state. We look forward to lending GLAD our support in this latest chapter of the struggle for marriage equality.

    Posted by: Jon Davidson | Mar 3, 2009 8:51:38 PM

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