Massachusetts AG challenges federal law against same-sex marriage as discriminatory

[JURIST] Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley [official profile] filed suit [complaint, PDF] Wednesday against the US government, challenging a provision of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text] that allegedly interferes with the state's same-sex marriage law [JURIST report]. Coakley argues that the federal law, which denies federal recognition for same-sex marriages, interferes with the state's right to define and regulate marriage. The complaint, filed in the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website], alleges that the DOMA excludes more than 16,000 married same-sex couples and their families in Massachusetts from rights and protections afforded to other married couples. The suit claims that the federal law violates the US Constitution [materials] by interfering with the state's sovereign authority to define and regulate marriage for its residents, exceeding Congress's legislative authority under the Spending Clause of Article I. The state alleges that § 3 of the federal law creates separate and unequal categories of married individuals, prohibiting same-sex spouses from filing joint federal tax returns, receiving Social Security survivor benefits, guaranteed leave from work for spousal illness and other rights given to married couples of the opposite sex. Coakley addressed the problems [press release] with the federal law:


It is unconstitutional for the federal government to discriminate, as it does because of DOMA's restrictive definition of marriage. It is also unconstitutional for the federal government to decide who is married and to create a system of first- and second-class marriages. The federal government cannot require states, such as Massachusetts, to further the discrimination through federal programs, either. The time has come for this injustice to end.

The complaint focuses on the state's Medicaid program, MassHealth, and a veteran burial program sponsored by the Massachusetts Department of Veterans' Services (DVA) [official webpages]. MassHealth offers healthcare coverage to qualifying residents of Massachusetts while the veteran program provides burial services for Massachusetts veterans and their spouses at cemeteries owned and operated by the DVA. Coakley's office is seeking an order that prohibits the federal government from enforcing the challenged provision of the DOMA against the state of Massachusetts as well as a declaration that the provision is unconstitutional as applied to the state, MassHealth, and the DVS.

Massachusetts became the first state to allow same-sex marriages in 2004 and has since issued licenses to more than 16,000 same-sex couples. In March, a group of Massachusetts plaintiffs who are or have been married under the state's same-sex marriage law filed a similar lawsuit [JURIST report] challenging DOMA. Other jurisdictions have also recently dealt with same-sex marriage issues. Although Maine became the fifth state to allow same-sex marriages [JURIST report] in May, the Stand for Marriage Maine coalition [advocacy website] announced Wednesday that they have collected more than the requisite 55,087 signatures [press release] needed to put a veto on the November ballot, allowing voters to decide on the law. On Tuesday, a Washington, DC law took effect [JURIST report] that recognizes same-sex marriages performed in other states or jurisdictions. Currently, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut and Iowa [JURIST reports] all allow same-sex marriage.


 

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