US House members file court brief arguing DOMA unconstitutional

[JURIST] Members of the US House of Representatives [official website] on Tuesday filed an amicus brief [text, PDF] with the US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit [official website] regarding the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text, PDF; JURIST news archive], which denies federal recognition of same-sex marriages [JURIST backgrounder]. The brief was submitted by 132 House members, including House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) [official website; press release], in the appeal of Karen Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management, the landmark case in which the US District Court for the Northern District of California [official website] ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional [JURIST report]. In his decision, Judge Jeffrey White held that statutory classifications based on sexual orientation should be subject to heightened judicial scrutiny and that DOMA is invalid as not being "substantially related to an important governmental objective." The House members' brief strongly supports the February ruling:

Section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage for all federal purposes as "only a legal union between one man and one woman," lacks a rational relationship to any legitimate federal purpose and accordingly is unconstitutional. ... Amici agree with the Department of Justice (DOJ) and the District Court that laws like DOMA that disadvantage lesbians and gay men warrant heightened judicial review, and that DOMA cannot survive such review. ... [Regardless,] the Fifth Amendment's equal protection guarantee [Cornell LII backgrounder] renders Section 3 invalid under any judicial standard.
The crux of the brief is that the House is "not united on DOMA's validity" and that Section 3 does not affect married heterosexual couples but "affirmatively harms married gay and lesbian couples and their children."

Last month 10 US senators filed their own amicus brief in the case, arguing in the opposite [JURIST report] that the federal government had a legitimate interest in creating a uniform federal definition of marriage to "[avoid] massive legal uncertainty." That filing came the week after the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) submitted its brief defending DOMA [JURIST report], arguing that laws relating to sexual orientation should be evaluated with a rational basis [Cornell LII backgrounder] test and 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. The BLAG DOMA defense group of attorneys [JURIST report] was established by House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) [official website] on a 3-2 BLAG vote in March of last year after the DOJ announced that it would no longer defend the constitutionality of Section 3 on order from President Obama, after he announced he would continue to fight for the repeal of DOMA [JURIST report]. In March of this year the Obama administration petitioned the Ninth Circuit [JURIST report] for an expedited en banc review of the Golinski case.

 

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