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Advocates seeking to overturn Defense of Marriage Act optimistic

CHRIS JOHNSON | Washington Blade
Thursday, April 5, 2012
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BOSTON — There was optimism in the air outside the John Joseph Moakley Courthouse after advocates seeking to overturn the Defense of Marriage Act emerged from the first-ever appellate hearing on the constitutionality of the law.

Nancy Gill, the lead plaintiff in one of the cases before the First Circuit Court of Appeals, said she “absolutely” thinks she’s on the cusp of seeing the end of the anti-gay statute prohibiting federal recognition of her marriage.

GLAD’s Mary Bonauto (center) poses for a photo with Gill plaintiffs.
(Washington Blade photo by Chris Johnson.)

“It’s definitely going to happen,” Gill told the Washington Blade. “We can’t fathom how anybody can make an argument against a relationship that’s 31 years old. We’ve been married for eight, have two children. We add to society, and we just want to make sure that we have the same rights and protections that our other married friends have.”

Gill, a postal worker who married her spouse, Marcelle Letourneau, in 2004 after same-sex marriage became legal in Massachusetts, is suing the federal government on the basis that DOMA unfairly precludes them from obtaining health insurance and pensions afforded to other federal workers.

The Washington Blade interviewed several individuals outside the courtroom following the court hearing on Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health & Human Services, filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Speaking to reporters, Mary Bonauto, GLAD’s civil rights project director, reiterated some of the arguments she made against DOMA during the oral arguments when she contended that DOMA violates the equal protection rights of her plaintiffs. Bonauto was lead counsel in the Goodridge case that led to the 2003 legalization of same-sex marriage in Massachusetts.

“Nobody’s trying to throw stones here but Congress wasn’t at its best for this,” Bonauto said. “They are supposed to act neutrally when it comes to the rights of people, but Congress couldn’t have been clearer that it disapproved of gay people and did not want them to have the same protections everyone else has. We all come before our government as equals, and it needs a reason other than ‘I don’t like you’ to treat people differently, especially on such a massive scale.”

Coakley expressed confidence the court would strike down DOMA after her deputy Maura Healey presented the argument that DOMA was unconstitutional on the basis that it violates state’s rights under the Tenth Amendment.

“I can’t speak for the judges, and I’m sure they will look at all the arguments fairly, but when you look at the thinness of the legal argument on the other side and really the emotional and real fact-based arguments made by the plaintiffs, I’m confident that Judge Tauro will be upheld,” Coakley said.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro, a Nixon appointee, ruled against DOMA in 2010 in the two cases that are now before the appellate court on the basis that the anti-gay law fails the rational standard basis of review. The cases were brought to the First Circuit upon appeal.

Paul Clement, the former U.S. solicitor general whom House Speaker John Boehner hired to defend DOMA, wasn’t seen outside along with plaintiff couples and attorneys. Fresh from arguing against the health care law before the Supreme Court, Clement appeared to argue on behalf of DOMA and was set to argue in favor of the controversial Arizona immigration law later this month.

Clement bore the brunt of disparaging comments from LGBT advocates after the hearing for arguments he made in court. Among them, his claims that opposite-sex marriages are beneficial because they’re the only union that can produce children. He also said DOMA allows the federal government to stay out of the way while states decide the issue of same-sex marriage.

Continue reading at the Washington Blade

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