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DOJ to appeal rulings striking down Defense of Marriage Act

The US Department of Justice [official website] on Tuesday filed two notices of appeal [text, PDF; text, PDF] in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website], defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive]. The notices of appeal do not specify the DOJ's arguments in support of the law, which will eventually be heard by the US Court of Appeals for the First Circuit [official website]. In July, Judge Joseph Tauro ruled [JURIST report] that the DOMA definition of marriage as between a man and a woman is unconstitutional because it interferes with the states' right to define marriage. Tauro issued rulings in two separate cases challenging the DOMA: Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, filed by the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) [advocacy website] on behalf of seven same-sex couples married in Massachusetts, and Commonwealth of Massachusetts vs. Department of Health and Human Services. In the GLAD lawsuit, Tauro granted summary judgment [opinion, PDF] for the plaintiffs, holding that Section 3 of the DOMA violates equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment [text] because it denies many federal benefits to same-sex married couples. In the second case, filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley [official website], Tauro ruled [opinion, PDF] that Section 3 violates the state's right to define marriage under the Tenth Amendment [text].

The DOJ moved to dismiss [JURIST report] the Massachusetts lawsuit in November, stating that it is the policy of the government to support federal statutes as long as there is a reasonable argument in favor of their constitutionality. Massachusetts, the first state to recognize gay marriage, initiated the suit [JURIST report] against the federal government last July. The DOJ also sought to dismiss [JURIST report] the GLAD case on the basis that Congress has the authority to pass legislation defining marriage. The Obama administration has extended some federal benefits [JURIST report] to same-sex couples, including allowing domestic partners to be added to insurance programs, to use medical facilities, and to be included in family size and house allocation considerations. In June, Obama ordered executive agencies to expand [JURIST report] federal childcare subsidies and services and travel and relocation payments to the same-sex partners of federal employees and their children. The Obama administration has said DOMA is discriminatory but has maintained that it is nonetheless constitutional. In March, the District of Columbia joined Vermont, New Hampshire, Iowa, Connecticut, Massachusetts [JURIST reports], and the Coquille Indian Tribe [OregonLive report] in legalizing same-sex marriage [JURIST news archive], extending the full benefits available at the state level to same-sex spouses.

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