For Immediate Release - October 27, 2011

AG Coakley Asks Appeals Court to Uphold DOMA Decision

U.S. District Court Ruled That DOMA Discriminates Against Same-Sex Couples and Violates Federal Constitution

BOSTON – In her ongoing effort to ensure equality for married couples in Massachusetts, Attorney General Martha Coakley today filed a brief pdf format of Brief to First Circuit (2011) with the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals in the Commonwealth’s constitutional challenge to the federal Defense of Marriage Act. 

“DOMA is a discriminatory law for which there is no reasonable justification,” Attorney General Coakley said.  “It does harm to families in Massachusetts every day, and our office will continue to fight to ensure that all married couples in Massachusetts are treated fairly.”

DOMA renders marriages of same-sex couples in Massachusetts invalid for all federal purposes.  It was ruled unconstitutional by the United States District Court in July 2010.  The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), which represents the federal defendants sued by the Commonwealth, appealed that decision.  Since then, however, DOJ has announced that it also believes DOMA is a discriminatory and unconstitutional law.  DOMA is now being defended by the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to the U.S. House of Representatives.

The District Court granted summary judgment to the Commonwealth in Massachusetts v. U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, et al. in July 2010, and to a group of plaintiff couples represented by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders in a parallel equal protection challenge, Gill v. Office of Personnel Mgmt. The cases are now on appeal to the First Circuit.  The Commonwealth is asking the First Circuit to uphold the District Court’s ruling that DOMA interferes with state sovereign authority to determine marital status in violation of the Tenth Amendment, and that it forces the state to discriminate against married same-sex spouses in violation of equal protection principles.

Oral arguments are expected in the United States First Circuit Court of Appeals sometime in early 2012.

The complaint pdf format of Commonwealth of MA v. U.S. H.H.S. (2009) filed in July 2009, alleged that DOMA, which affects more than 1,100 federal statutory provisions, violates the United States Constitution by interfering with the Commonwealth’s sovereign authority to define and regulate the marital status of its residents.  The complaint also alleged that DOMA exceeds Congress’s authority under the Spending Clause because Congress does not have a valid reason for requiring Massachusetts to treat married same-sex couples differently from all other married couples, and that it unlawfully requires Massachusetts to disregard valid marriages in its implementation of federally funded programs. 

DOMA, which defines a marriage as limited to a husband and wife, was enacted in 1996 in anticipation of the possibility that Hawaii might license marriages between same-sex couples.  Throughout the country’s history and up until DOMA, state marriage determinations controlled for purposes of all federal laws and programs.  Section 3 of DOMA created, for the first time, a federal definition of marriage and, with it, a federal limitation on marriage.  As a result, DOMA unlawfully creates separate and unequal categories of married individuals in Massachusetts, due to the fact that only different-sex married couples are considered married under federal law.  As described in the complaint, DOMA prohibits married individuals in same-sex relationships from taking advantage of the ability to file a joint federal tax return, Social Security survivor benefits, guaranteed leave from work to care for sick spouses, flexible spending accounts for medical expenses of spouses, and gift tax and estate tax exemptions for spouses.  These rights and protections affect all facets of life from the workplace to healthcare to retirement, and every married person is affected significantly by these laws.

The complaint also highlights two programs in Massachusetts that are affected by DOMA.  The two programs are MassHealth, the Commonwealth’s Medicaid program which offers healthcare coverage to low- and moderate-income residents of Massachusetts, and the burial of Massachusetts veterans and their spouses at cemeteries owned and operated by the Massachusetts Department of Veterans’ Services (DVS).  

The matter is being handled by Assistant Attorney General Jonathan Miller, Division Chief Maura Healey of Attorney General Coakley’s Civil Rights Division, and Christopher K. Barry-Smith, Chief of the Public Protection and Advocacy Bureau.

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