Wednesday, August 5, 2009

MA sues to overturn Defense of Marriage Act

When views begin to change on whether some transaction is repugnant, laws may start to conflict. California legalized same sex marriage, then reversed itself. And Massachusetts, the first state to legalize gay marriage, is suing to overturn Federal legislation passed under the Bush administration that defines marriage for certain federal purposes as being between a man and a woman.

Here's a story about the suit: Mass. is 1st to fight US marriage law, and here's the text of the suit itself. The introduction to the suit states in part:

"In 2004, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts became the first state to end the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage. Since that time, more than 16,000 qualified and committed same-sex couples have married in Massachusetts and the security and stability of families has been strengthened in important ways throughout the state. Despite these developments, same-sex couples in Massachusetts are still denied essential rights and protections because the federal Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") interferes with the Commonwealth’s sovereign authority to define and regulate marriage. As applied to the Commonwealth and its residents, DOMA constitutes an overreaching and discriminatory federal law.
In this case, the Commonwealth challenges the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA, codified at 1 U.S.C. § 7. Section 3 of DOMA creates an unprecedented federal definition of marriage limited to a union between one man and one woman. Congress’s decision to enact a federal definition of marriage rejected the long-standing practice of deferring to each state’s definition of marriage and contravened the constitutional designation of exclusive authority to the states. From its founding until DOMA was enacted in 1996, the federal government recognized that defining marital status was the exclusive prerogative of the states and an essential aspect of each state’s sovereignty, and consistently deferred to state definitions when the marital status of an individual was used as a marker of eligibility for rights or protections under federal law.
Now, because of Section 3 of DOMA, married individuals in same-sex relationships are both denied access to critically important rights and benefits and not held to the same obligations and responsibilities arising out of marriage or based on marital status. DOMA precludes same-sex spouses from a wide range of important protections that directly affect them and their families, including federal income tax credits, employment and retirement benefits, health insurance coverage, and Social Security payments. In enacting DOMA, Congress overstepped its authority, undermined states’ efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people.
Section 3 of DOMA applies to all federal laws retrospectively and prospectively. In so doing, it affects the Commonwealth in significant ways. First, DOMA interferes with the Commonwealth’s exclusive authority to determine and regulate the marital status of its citizens. Although the Commonwealth views all married persons identically, Section 3 of DOMA creates two distinct classes of married persons in Massachusetts by denying hundreds of rights and protections to married individuals in same-sex relationships. Second, Section 3 of DOMA imposes conditions on the Commonwealth’s participation in certain federally funded programs that require the Commonwealth to disregard marriages validly solemnized under Massachusetts law. DOMA’s sweeping scope exceeds the powers granted to Congress and violates the United States Constitution. "

Here's a thoughtful article on the general legal issue by Martha Nussbaum: A Right to Marry? Same-sex Marriage and Constitutional Law.
A small snippet of that long (and interesting) article:

"What we’re seeing today, as five states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, Vermont, and, briefly, California) have legalized same-sex marriage, as others (California, and Vermont and Connecticut before their legalization of same-sex marriage) have offered civil unions with marriage-like benefits, and yet others (New York) have announced that, although they will not perform same-sex marriages themselves, they will recognize those legally contracted in other jurisdictions, is the same sort of competitive process—with, however, one important difference. The federal Defense of Marriage Act has made it clear that states need not give legal recognition to marriages legally contracted elsewhere. That was not the case with competing divorce regimes: once legally divorced in any other U. S. state, the parties were considered divorced in their own.But the non-recognition faced by same-sex couples does have a major historical precedent. States that had laws against miscegenation refused to recognize marriages between blacks and whites legally contracted elsewhere, and even criminalized those marriages. The Supreme Court case that overturned the anti-miscegenation laws, Loving v. Virginia, focused on this issue. Mildred Jeter (African American) and Richard Loving (white) got married in Washington, D. C., in 1958. Their marriage was not recognized as legal in their home state of Virginia. When they returned, there they were arrested in the middle of the night in their own bedroom. Their marriage certificate was hanging on the wall over their bed. The state prosecuted them, because interracial marriage was a felony in Virginia, and they were convicted. The judge then told them either to leave the state for twenty-five years or to spend one year in jail. They left, but began the litigation that led to the landmark 1967 decision.In 2007, on the fortieth anniversary of that decision, Jeter Loving issued a rare public statement, saying that she saw the struggle she and her late husband waged as similar to the struggle of same-sex couples today:
'My generation was bitterly divided over something that should have been so clear and right. The majority believed…that it was God’s plan to keep people apart, and that government should discriminate against people in love. But…[t]he older generation’s fears and prejudices have given way, and today’s young people realize that if someone loves someone they have a right to marry. Surrounded as I am now by wonderful children and grandchildren, not a day goes by that I don’t think of Richard and our love, our right to marry, and how much it meant to me to have that freedom to marry the person precious to me, even if others thought he was the “wrong kind of person” for me to marry. I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry.' "


Uncle Big Steve said...

I believe the law was passed under the Clinton administration, not the Bush administration. My feeble legal mind also believes the law is blatantly unconstitutional, however, I don't know if the Roberts' court will see it that way. It could be interesting.

dWj said...

The post itself includes the (correct) fact that the law was passed in 1996, which was even before Clinton's reelection. As for the constitutionality, I was skeptical at first (in 1996), until it was pointed out to me that the full faith and credit clause is pretty clear about letting Congress define relevant standards, and this seems to fall squarely into its prerogatives.

I certainly hope it's repealed -- legislatively, not by a creative judiciary -- and I expect social changes will lead it to happen in a generation, unless it gets forced through in a way that strikes a large portion of the electorate as patently unfair -- in which case you can expect people to dig in.