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Federal appeals court urged to uphold Defense of Marriage Act

The bipartisan legal advisory group in charge of defending the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text, PDF; JURIST news archive] filed its brief [text, PDF] on Monday defending the act's provision denying federal benefits to lawfully married same-sex couples. The brief, filed in the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website], argues that laws relating to sexual orientation should be evaluated with a rational basis [Cornell LII backgrounder] test. The advisory group says that the government's denial of federal benefits to lawfully married same-sex couples is a rational means to preserving a single federal definition of marriage and preserving federal funds:

DOMA easily passes muster under rational basis review, as DOMA is supported by numerous rational bases. Congress saw that expanding federal marital benefits to same-sex couples, who at the time of DOMA's passage were not recognized as married in any states, would raise significant problems of disuniformity and unfairness in the distribution of such benefits. Moreover, any extension of federal marital benefits likely would increase demands on federal resources, create unpredictable changes in the budgets of countless federal programs, and upset the calibration of the countless prior statutes dealing with marriages, all of which were structured on the understanding that the institution included only opposite-sex couples.
The brief makes no mention of the First Circuit decision [JURIST report] last week finding the denial of federal benefits for same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. The Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website], which no longer defends DOMA [JURIST report], has argued that laws affecting LGBT citizens should receive "heightened scrutiny" above rational basis.

The Obama administration petitioned [JURIST report] the Ninth Circuit appeals court in March for an expedited en banc review of this case. In its request for review, the Obama administration raised the question of "whether classifications based on sexual orientation are subject to rational basis review or instead demand heightened scrutiny under well-established equal protection principles." The request for expedited review came after the US District Court for the Northern District of California ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional, after Karen Golinski filed suit [JURIST reports] against the US Office of Personnel Management for refusing extend health insurance benefits to her same-sex spouse. House Speaker John Boehner's (R-OH) DOMA defense group [JURIST report] took over the defense.of DOMA in court after the DOJ announced in February that it would no longer defend the legislation.

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