Earlier today, the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) and the American Civil Liberties Union filed two new lawsuits challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1996 law that prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. GLAD scored a victory with a similar challenge in July, when a Federal District Court in Boston ruled that DOMA interfered with the “traditional state right to define marriage and forces the state to ‘violate the equal protection rights of its citizens.’” The Obama administration is currently appealing the ruling.
These cases build on that victory in two important ways. As the New York Times explains, the two new lawsuits, “which involve plaintiffs from New York, Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire, expand the attack geographically and also encompass more of the 1,138 federal laws and regulations that the Defense of Marriage Act potentially affects — including the insurance costs amounting to several hundred dollars a month in the case of Ms. Pedersen and Ms. Meitzen, and a $350,0000 estate tax payment in the A.C.L.U. case.” And secondly, the cases argue that DOMA not only forces states to discriminate against same-sex spouses, but it also demands that private corporations deny benefits to same-sex partners. Metro Weekly’s Chris Geidner pulls out the following quote:
Under the terms of the Bayer [Corporation Pension] Plan, and in compliance with applicable federal law, where a Participant, like Thomas Buckholz, who has vested and has a nonforfeitable right to benefits under the Bayer Plan, dies prior to his annuity start date, the Participant’s surviving spouse shall be paid a Preretirement Survivor Annuity. (Bayer Plan, §5.6(a)).
As a result of the application of DOMA, 1 U.S.C. § 7, through ERISA and the Internal Revenue Code, Jerry has been denied the vested qualified preretirement survivor annuity (QPSA) available to all spouses of vested participants in defined benefit pension plans in the equivalent situation as Jerry finds himself today even though he is legally Tom’s surviving spouse under Connecticut law.
In the decision handed down in July, U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro had concluded that “there is a historically entrenched tradition of federal reliance on state marital status determination,” and found that DOMA not only violates the tenth amendment but also “induces the Commonwealth to violate the equal protection rights of its citizens” embodied in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
“DOMA plainly conditions the receipt of federal funding on the denial of marriage-based benefits to same-sex married couples, though the same benefits are provided to similarly-situated heterosexual couples,” the Court ruled. “ As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this court must hold Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.”