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Another federal judge rules DOMA unconstitutional

Tuesday, July 31, 2012
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HARTFORD, Conn. — A federal judge in Connecticut on Tuesday said the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law which defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman, violates the U.S. Constitution’s right to equal protection.

The ruling, by U.S. District Judge Vanessa L. Bryant in Hartford, Conn., comes with respect to claims brought by six married same-sex couples and one widower from the states of Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont who were denied federal tax, social security, pension and family medical leave protections only because they are (or were) married to someone of the same sex.

Plaintiffs Joanne Pedersen and Ann Meitzen

Under the ruling, the plaintiffs’ marriages must be accorded the same federal protections and responsibilities as those of other married couples.

The ruling by Bryant, an appointee of President George W. Bush, stems from the lawsuit Pedersen et al v. Office of Personnel Management et al, filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in November 2010 in the Federal District Court in Connecticut.

“I’m thrilled that the court ruled that our marriage commitment should be respected by the federal government just as it is in our home state of Connecticut,” says Joanne Pedersen, who is a plaintiff with her spouse, Ann Meitzen. “I loved working for the Navy for many years, and now that I am retired I now just want to care for my wife and make sure we can enjoy some happy and healthy years together. DOMA has prevented us from doing that.”

Judge Vanessa L. Bryant

In her ruling, Bryant found:

Section 3 of DOMA obligates the federal government to single out a certain category of marriages as excluded from federal recognition, thereby resulting in an inconsistent distribution of federal marriage benefits as all marriages authorized by certain states will receive recognition and marital benefits, whereas only a portion of marriages authorized by other states will receive federal recognition and benefits.

[...]

Having considered all four factors, this Court finds that homosexuals display all the traditional indicia of suspectness and therefore statutory classifications based on sexual orientation are entitled to a heightened form of judicial scrutiny. However, the Court need not apply a form of heightened scrutiny in the instant case to conclude that DOMA violates the promise of the equal protection as it is clear that DOMA fails to pass constitutional muster under even the most deferential level of judicial scrutiny.

“Judge Bryant’s ruling is very clear: married people are married and should be treated as such by the federal government. There is no legitimate basis for DOMA’s broad disrespect of the marriages of same-sex couples,” said Mary L. Bonauto, GLAD’s Civil Rights Project Director.

“We are very pleased that the Court recognized that DOMA’s creation of second-class marriages harms our clients who simply seek the same opportunities to care and provide for each other and for their children that other families enjoy,” Bonauto said, in a statement.

The next step in the case is likely to be an appeal of the District Court ruling to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit from the interveners in the case – the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) of the U.S. House of Representatives, led by House Speaker John Boehner.

BLAG intervened to defend DOMA from equal protection challenges after President Barack Obama declared his administration would no longer defend DOMA in federal court challenges.

would no longer defend the law in response to this case and Windsor v. United States. That appeal should come within the next 60 days.

Bryant joins the growing chorus of federal judges in Massachusetts, California and New York who have also ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional.

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