DOMA Challenge Hits Massachusetts Federal Court
In what is considered to be the first serious legal challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), US District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro began hearing arguments in a Massachusetts federal court yesterday. Mary L. Bonauto, an attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAAD), urged Judge Tauro to strike down the discriminatory law, arguing that DOMA, which that defines marriage as exclusively heterosexual, is “an unconstitutional intrusion on a matter previously left to the states.” Under DOMA, Bonauto’s 17 gay and lesbian clients, who have been legally married in the state of Massachusetts, are denied access to federal marriage rights such as Social Security retirement and survivor benefits, family medical leave, joint parenting rights, tax free transfer of property, and more than 1,000 other marriage-related benefits. On behalf of the federal government, Justice Department Attorney W. Scott Simpson stated that while the Obama administration believes DOMA is discriminatory and favors repealing the statute, it does not affect whether or not the law is constitutional. Simpson said that the Justice Department is obligated to defend laws that are constitutionally enacted by Congress. Simpson is asking Judge Tauro to dismiss the complaint, while Bonauto is asking the Judge to rule in favor of her clients without a trial, as a matter of law. If Judge Tauro rules for plaintiffs, same-sex marriage will not become legal in states where it is currently illegal, nor would states be required to recognize marriages that occurred legally in other states or jurisdictions. It would, however, begin the process of reversing DOMA and would be a triumph for same-sex marriage supporters. The case is ultimately expected to reach the Supreme Court.