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“Defense” of Marriage Act Challenged in Federal Court Today

May 6, 2010

The case of Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management, the court case brought by 17 Massachusetts couples challenging the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), is being argued in Federal Court in Boston today.  A National Public Radio piece clearly lays out that, despite the recognition of their marriages by the state of Massachusetts, these couples are legal strangers in the eyes of the federal government.  In the past six years, one coupled claims to have paid $20,000 more in federal taxes than they would if they were listed as married.

Among those bringing the lawsuit, considered to be the first serious challenge of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, are Kathy Bush and Mary Ritchie. When they married in 2004, they thought they would finally get the benefits and protections other couples do, without having to hire lawyers to draw up special contracts to secure everything from their parental rights to health care proxies.

“We said, ‘Wow! We can actually exhale now,’ ” recalls Ritchie. “You know, if someone says the word ‘married,’ everybody knows what that means.”

But it wasn’t long before they discovered that “everybody” did not include the federal government, which is barred by DOMA from recognizing gay marriages. For all federal purposes, Ritchie and Bush are still single. So, for example, if Ritchie, a State Police lieutenant, were killed in the line of duty, Bush would not be eligible for federal benefits available to other widows of law enforcement officers.

Pointing out that the federal government doesn’t interfere with the laws around marriage on any issue other than the gender of the spouses, Andrew Koppelman, a professor at Northwestern University Law School argues that,

The federal government has never taken this step against any other class of marriages in American history.  Not between uncles and nieces, not between blacks and whites, not between young teenagers. Never, ever before.

The case is being argued by Mary Bonauto, of Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), who has played a leading role in the fight for marriage equality in Maine.  A clip from one of the most memorable moments of the Maine debates (in my humble opinion) is below.

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