For Immediate Release - June 26, 2013

AG Coakley Applauds U.S. Supreme Court Decision to Strike Down the Defense of Marriage Act as Unconsitutional

Massachusetts First and Only State to Challenge DOMA and Win; AG’s Office Announces Hotline, Online Resources to Answer Questions

Online Resources can be found at www.mass.gov/doma .

BOSTON – Today, the United States Supreme Court struck down the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) as unconstitutional. In 2009, at AG Coakley’s direction, Massachusetts became the first and only state to file a complaint challenging DOMA’s constitutionality, alleging that DOMA interfered with Massachusetts’s sovereign authority to define and regulate the marital status of its residents and forced Massachusetts to unlawfully discriminate against its residents.

Listen to audio and read the transcript from today's press conference:

Attorney General Martha Coakley released the following statement on today’s decision:

“This ruling is a victory for equality and civil rights for all.  By striking down DOMA, the highest court has ensured that married same-sex couples are treated equally under federal law. Thousands of families throughout Massachusetts and the nation will no longer be denied social security, medical benefits or other fundamental protections simply because of who they love.

 I am proud of Massachusetts’ leadership on this important issue that will have a direct impact on so many people’s lives. The institution of marriage is only strengthened when we embrace marriage equality. Today’s decision is another major step on the march toward equality for all.”

 

BACKGROUND:

The AG’s complaint, first filed in 2009,highlighted some of the more than 1,100 federal rights, protections and benefits affected by DOMA’s discriminatory and unprecedented definition of marriage, including laws regulating Social Security benefits, health insurance, medical leave, veterans’ benefits, and federal income tax.  The case brought by AG Coakley was filed in connection with a DOMA challenge brought on behalf of 19 Massachusetts residents by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (Gill v. Office of Personnel Management).

Massachusetts and GLAD prevailed at the U.S. District Court in a 2010 decision striking down DOMA.  That decision was the first in the nation to hold DOMA unconstitutional.  Following an appeal by the United States to the First Circuit, the Department of Justice announced in 2011 that it was no longer defending DOMA against Equal Protection challenges.  As a result, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to the U.S. House of Representatives (“BLAG”) intervened in Massachusetts’s and GLAD’s cases, and defended DOMA on appeal.  The District Court’s decision was upheld by the First Circuit last year.  Both the United States and BLAG appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, though certiorari was only granted in United States v. Windsor, the case the Supreme Court decided today.

AG Coakley, along with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, 13 other states and the District of Columbia, submitted a friend of the court brief in Windsor urging the Supreme Court to strike down DOMA as unconstitutional. In March, AG Coakley attended the oral argument.

Enacted in 1996, DOMA created the first-ever federal definition of marriage, and limited marriage to a union between a man and a woman for the purposes of all federal laws. DOMA prohibited married same-sex couples from availing themselves of a hundreds of federal rights, responsibilities, and benefits including: filing 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 affected all facets of life from the workplace to healthcare to retirement.

Today’s Supreme Court decision ensures that federal benefits and protections will now be extended equally to married same-sex couples in Massachusetts and in all states where marriage equality has been realized. 

 

RESOURCES FOR THE PUBLIC:

To better assist the public and those affected by the Supreme Court’s decision, AG Coakley has set up a section of the AG’s website with answers to Frequently Asked Questions.  The information is available at www.mass.gov/ago/DOMA.  In addition, AG staff will be answering DOMA-related questions from member of the public at a dedicated hotline.  The number to call is 617-854-6767.

State employees and others who receive their health insurance through the Group Insurance Commission can contact the GIC directly for more information about their health insurance options as a result of today’s ruling.

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