For Immediate Release - February 28, 2013

AG Coakley Leads Multi-State Effort Urging Supreme Court to Strike Down California's Proposition 8 and DOMA as Unconsitutional

Separate Amicus Briefs Argue for Equal Marriage Rights for Same-Sex Couple; AG Continues Leadership Role in Fighting Discrimination

BOSTON – Urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down laws that discriminate against same-sex couples, Attorney General Martha Coakley filed an amicus brief today asking the Court to declare California’s Proposition 8 unconstitutional and will file a brief Friday with New York asking the Court to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  Massachusetts is the only state to challenge DOMA and win, a decision upheld by the First Circuit last year.



AG Coakley submitted a brief pdf format of Amicus brief in Hollingsworth v. Perry (2013)
in the case of Hollingsworth v. Perry with the Supreme Court today, arguing that Proposition 8’s ban on marriage for same-sex couples violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment and should be declared unconstitutional.

Proposition 8 amended the California state constitution to define marriage as a union between one man and one woman.  California voters approved the measure by ballot initiative in November 2008 after a California Supreme Court decision granting same-sex couples the right to marry. This case has been scheduled for oral argument before the U.S Supreme Court on March 26, 2013. 

“Our experience in Massachusetts has unequivocally shown that ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage has only strengthened the institution,” AG Coakley said.  “We urge the Court to strike Proposition 8 down because it discriminates against gay and lesbian individuals and their families.”

Attorney General Coakley filed the amicus brief on behalf of Massachusetts and 13 other states, including Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, Oregon, Vermont and Washington. The Attorney General of California filed a separate brief in support of equal marriage rights.

AG Coakley’s brief highlights the experience of Massachusetts and other states that have ended the exclusion of same-sex couples from civil marriage. Relying on data regarding marriage rates, divorce rates, and percentages of out-of-wedlock births, the brief refutes speculation offered by the proponents of Proposition 8 as to the supposed negative effects of allowing same-sex couples to marry. The brief also argues that the measure actually harms families by denying the multitude of legal and social benefits of marriage to same-sex couples and their children.

The brief argues that “Proposition 8 deprives the children of same-sex couples of the benefits of being raised in a secure, protected family unit with two married parents.  In doing so, it works against the states’ efforts to ‘strengthen the modern family in its many variations’,” citing the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court’s 2003 decision in Goodridge v. Department of Public Health.

The brief further argues, “The states favor – and therefore encourage – marriage over transient relationships because marriage promotes stable family bonds, fosters economic interdependence and security for members of the marital household, and enhances the physical and emotional well-being of both the partners to the marriage and any children they may raise….  All of these interests are furthered by ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from the institution.”

A federal district court in California ruled that Proposition 8 violated both the Due Process and Equal Protection Clauses of the U.S. Constitution.  In 2010, AG Coakley filed an amicus brief when the case was before the Ninth Circuit Court of U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. In February 2012, the Ninth Circuit declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional and affirmed the district court’s ruling. Proposition 8’s proponents then sought Supreme Court review.



On Friday, AG Coakley, along with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, will submit a brief pdf format of Amicus brief in U.S. v. Windsor (2013)
in the case of U.S. v. Windsor urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the federal Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) as unconstitutional.  DOMA defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman for the purposes of all federal laws. That case has been scheduled for oral argument before the Supreme Court on March 27, 2013. 

“The Defense of Marriage Act represents an unprecedented intrusion into an area of law that has always been controlled by the states,” AG Coakley said.  “This discriminatory and unconstitutional law harms thousands of families in Massachusetts and takes away our state’s right to extend marriage equality to all couples. We urge the Supreme Court to take the important final step toward ensuring equality for all.”

The case was brought by New York resident Edie Windsor, who was married in Canada in 2007 to her partner, Thea Spyer.  Following Spyer’s death two years later, the federal government denied Windsor the estate tax exemption available to surviving spouses. Windsor filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of DOMA and seeking a refund of the estate taxes she was forced to pay as a result of the federal government’s refusal to recognize her marriage.

The brief argues that DOMA is a significant departure from Congress’s more than 200 years of deference to all state marriage determinations and warrants closer review by the Supreme Court.  In addition to highlighting many examples of DOMA undermining other federal laws by excluding protections to same-sex spouses, the brief contends that none of the arguments offered by those defending DOMA are legitimate bases for sustaining it.

This amicus brief is being filed jointly, on behalf of Massachusetts and New York, and at least 14 other states, including California, Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Illinois, Iowa, Maine, Maryland, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont and Washington.



In 2009, under Attorney General Coakley’s direction, Massachusetts became the first and only state in the nation to file a complaint alleging that DOMA, which affects hundreds of federal laws, violates the U. S. 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. 

In July 2010, DOMA was ruled unconstitutional by the U.S. District Court of Massachusetts, which was appealed by the defendants to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit.  On May 31, 2012, the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the lower court ruling .  On June 29, 2012, the defendants requested certiorari from the U.S. Supreme Court, asking the Court to review and hear arguments. 

In July 2012, AG Coakley filed a reply brief with the U.S. Supreme Court in response to a defense request for review of the First Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that struck down DOMA as unconstitutional. In its brief, the AG asked the Supreme Court to uphold rulings by lower courts that found DOMA unconstitutional.

This matter was handled by Maura Healey, Chief of AG Coakley’s Public Protection & Advocacy Bureau, Jonathan Miller, Chief of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division and Assistant Attorneys General Joshua Jacobson, Genevieve Nadeau, and Gabrielle Viator, all of AG Coakley’s Civil Rights Division.


Follow us on Twitter – View our Photos – Visit our Website