DOMA | Massachusetts

Massachusetts Sues Over DOMA

Website_headshot Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley (pictured) filed a 32-page lawsuit Wednesday against the U.S. government, seeking federal marriage benefits for 16,000 legally-wed gay and lesbian couples. At issue is the constitutionality of Section 3 the Defense of Marriage Act, recently notoriously defended by the Department of Justice.

The suit states that DOMA, termed "overreaching and discriminatory," interferes with the state's "sovereign authority to define and regulate marriage."

"We view all married persons equally," Coakley said at a press conference today.

The basis for the suit is the 10th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and Section 8 of the Constitution. Along with the United States itself, defendants include the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and the U.S. Department of Veterans' Affairs.

Another suit by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) targeting DOMA is also in the works. GLAD's Janson Wu says, "We applaud the Commonwealth's decision to seek to protect its married citizens from the harms caused by federal discrimination."

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  1. Just wait for Obama's reaction to this!

    Posted by: Roscoe | Jul 8, 2009 3:31:54 PM

  2. It's ON! Fire at 'em from all directions. Love this. It's not going to stop until there is equality. Keep pecking!

    Posted by: freddy | Jul 8, 2009 3:36:53 PM

  3. We have so many strong legal arguments on our side for repealing DOMA. The other side doesn't have much. Hope these cases get to the Supreme Court soon and they throw out DOMA.

    Posted by: Matt | Jul 8, 2009 3:40:39 PM

  4. Go Martha -- Martha for Mass Governor!

    Posted by: David B. 2 | Jul 8, 2009 3:57:35 PM

  5. I loves me some MA. I went to college in what my father lovingly referred to as The People's Republic of Cambridge - and thank God! My boyfriend lives in Northampton - I'm in NY for now, but I'm plotting my way back....

    Posted by: Michael | Jul 8, 2009 4:04:14 PM

  6. For decades we have been told California, specifically San Francisco, will lead the nation when it comes to equality. We now know that is sadly not the case. I for one will start vacationing and buying products from Mass. This state consistently stood up for us when others are openly hostile. God bless them!

    Posted by: Mark | Jul 8, 2009 4:06:29 PM

  7. Wait, are you saying that DOMA is unconstitutional? Holy cow!

    Go Martha!!!! Finally some clear action going to the heart of the matter.

    Posted by: David R. | Jul 8, 2009 4:07:11 PM

  8. Well, if their 10th Amendment-basis works, I'll change my tune on this whole "devolution revolution," I guess. Power to the states(?)!

    But a quick note: DOMA is being challenged on the basis of the 10th Amendment and /ARTICLE I/, Section 8 of the U.S. Constitution, Matthew. It's kind of important to know which Article is being referred to. =P Just sayin'.

    Posted by: Joey R. | Jul 8, 2009 4:08:27 PM

  9. BTW, and a little OT, my family and I just returned from overseas, and for the first time the US Customs agent accepted our single Landing Card for our little queer family. He simply asked what our relationship was and my husband said, "We're married and this is our son." The agent said, "OK, anything to declare?" and we were on our way! How refreshing.

    Welcome to the US of O.

    Posted by: David R. | Jul 8, 2009 4:11:36 PM

  10. I am having a serious issue with this complaint. On page 3 it states "The Commonwealth seeks declaratory and injunctive relief for the narrow but critical purpose of enabling it to define marriage within its own boundaries. This action does not address the application of DOMA in states that do not recognize marriages between same-sex couples. It does, however, seek to remedy the fundamental unfairness that DOMA causes to Massachusetts and its residents by denying those residents equal treatment under the law."
    So basically they are wanting an injunction specific to Massachusetts marriages ONLY where federal recognition is granted. This paragraph makes ZERO sense.

    Posted by: Jim in MN | Jul 8, 2009 4:29:40 PM

  11. Jim In MN: I didn't get to read it yet, but I think they're just making clear they are not challenging the section that says other states don't have to recognize marriage from out of state, which is a strategic decision (not present in the Prop. 8 case) to narrow the focus and make it more likely we will get a favorable ruling from SCOTUS. A favorable ruling would force the federal government to recognize same-sex marriages from any state that chooses to allow them (not just Mass.), but not force states that don't allow them to do so.

    Posted by: John K. | Jul 8, 2009 4:40:18 PM

  12. I'm not sure I understand your issue with the complaint, Jim? (Not a criticism, simply a question.) MA views all married couples equally, straight and gay. But gay couples within the state are discriminated against because they are denied federal benefits due to DOMA. In other words, DOMA prevents the state from defining marriage as it sees fit. While a favorable outcome to the suit wouldn't necassarily benefit people outside of MA, it could have broad implications and would certainly be an important step forward. But legal experts--I am the opposite of that--might have more to say, for instance, about the wisdom of filing a suit at this point in time.

    Posted by: Ernie | Jul 8, 2009 4:52:28 PM

  13. Thank you Martha Coakley. I am glad I voted for you for AG. I'm proud to be from MA, and proud that MA is one once again taking the lead on this issue. At least some Democrats have the courage to fight for the LGBT community (we just need some in DC).

    Posted by: woofdoug | Jul 8, 2009 5:03:48 PM

  14. Mark,

    The only thing California is leading us into is bankruptcy.

    Posted by: Attmay | Jul 8, 2009 5:44:38 PM

  15. Also note that this suit, like that initiated by GLAD, attacks DOMA Section 3 only. That part says defines marriage for the sake of applying federal law (Social Security, etc.). Section 2 (the only other actual section) says states don't have to respect each others' definitions of marriage, and is another issue entirely. It probably only re-states something that is already true.

    As for Jim's point, the MA AG can only sue for issues she can legitimately raise. It's not her business to argue about what happens in Texas. Similarly, GLAD's suit is only about the rights of people in states that recognize same-sex marriage. Mayeb you should take a look at DOMA and what it actually does. It doesn't "define marriage." It defiens marriage for the sake of applying federal law. It's a practical thing, not some generic abstraction. Thus any challenge to it is practical and specific.

    David R. -- I'd love to know where you entered the US?

    Posted by: BillyBoy | Jul 8, 2009 6:10:00 PM

  16. Without the ACTIONS of Harvey Milk and Gavin Newsom(both from San Francisco) GLBT equality would be NOWHERE.

    Posted by: SFshawn | Jul 8, 2009 6:18:38 PM

  17. Gavin Newsom? His illegal marriages were far more negative than positive -- a great fund-raiser for the right. And his constant crowing and self-promotion did us no service during the Prop 8 battle.

    Posted by: BillyBoy | Jul 8, 2009 6:38:39 PM

  18. I finished reading the entire brief and am very statisfied with it. I reacted without really considering the full context of it, most likely do to the fact I was expecting some underhanded tactic (as we've seen a lot of recently). As pointed out, the A.G. is simply arguing that overturning DOMA would not affect the states that DON'T allow same sex marriage but WOULD affect those that do. In that context it makes a great deal of sense and I am VERY VERY proud of MA A.G. Coakley!

    Posted by: Jim in MN | Jul 8, 2009 6:47:23 PM

  19. Glad to hear that, Jim.

    I think some of the rhetoric in the complaint is good too. One wouldn't expect the administration of veteran's cemeteries to be much of an issue. But I note that the whole point of having more cemeteries, including some that are state-administered, is to put more of them within reasonable traveling distance of the families of the deceased. That neatly shifts the focus from the definition of a spouse to what makes a family. Letting a family visiting the graces of their parents is a nice addition to arguments about financial benefits and tax treatment.

    Posted by: BillyBoy | Jul 8, 2009 6:58:16 PM

  20. And Law Dork has an interesting assessment.

    Posted by: BillyBoy | Jul 8, 2009 7:23:23 PM

  21. Those wingnuts have been preaching 'states rights, states rights' for 40 years. Well, here's your states rights, right here. HA!

    Posted by: Winston | Jul 8, 2009 8:13:17 PM

  22. Martha Rocks!!!

    Posted by: Name: | Jul 8, 2009 9:00:48 PM

  23. To Billy Boy: My husband and I also filled out one US customs form when we entered the US after our honeymoon cruise in Miami last October. We approached the customs agent together, and he asked my husband where his separate form was. I immediately told him we were married in California. He accepted it without flinching. (It didn't hurt that he was cute, too!) I suspect that they are told not to question same sex couples, because the government probably doesn't need more lawsuits on its hands for something so insignificant as a customs form (who needs them anyway? A waste of paper...).
    I have to defend Gavin Newsom, because without his courageous move to allow marriages, I would not be legally married today. He's a hero to us. I can't blame him for the ignorance of the California electorate. Just remember this as you praise the Massachusetts AG. This could all backfire on her, and then what? Yes, she's courageous, too, but so was Gavin. He will continue to lead on the issue of same sex marriage in his bid for governor. Go Gavin! If he had been governor instead of Schwartzeneggar, we could have had marriage TWICE, because need I remind you it was OUR legislature that was the first in the nation to pass legislation allowing same sex marriage (or was it Hawaii?)...

    Posted by: Dan | Jul 9, 2009 3:05:31 AM

  24. I agree that California is definitely not leading on advancing the ball in 2009, but there are a couple points where it does still lead:

    - the total number of legal same-sex marriages (although if there are 16K in MA now, it will pass CA within the next year)

    - the level of support building for a repeal of the state constitutional amendment. California could become the first of what I can only hope then becomes a trend.

    Posted by: Gianpiero | Jul 9, 2009 9:07:47 AM

  25. Dan: I didn't actually ever praise Martha Coakley. I have lots of problems with her on other issues. In fact she recently lost a big case in SCOTUS, and she deserved to lose.

    You are only technically right about the CA legislature being first. The MA legislature was given the opportunity to undo same-sex marriage and refused to do so by a vote of more than 75%. They then proceeded to repeal an old law so that out-of-state couples can marry in MA.

    I still think what Newsom did, despite its benefit to you personally, have more negative impact than positive.

    Posted by: BillyBoy | Jul 9, 2009 9:11:18 AM

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