A gay rights legal group has taken a second aim at the federal law that backs the traditional definition of marriage in federal programs and protects states from being forced to recognize other states' gay marriages.
The Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) announced Tuesday that a lawsuit had been filed by three gay couples and one widower in U.S. District Court in Hartford, Conn. All are legally married in their New England states — Connecticut, Vermont or New Hampshire — and all have been denied federal spousal benefits.
"Married gay and lesbian couples fall through the federal safety nets that exist for other married people," Mary L. Bonauto, the director of GLAD's civil rights project, said of the group's challenge to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act.
"DOMA must fall," she said, claiming its "stated goal was to harm gay people and same-sex families … and sadly, it has succeeded."
The lawsuit "is really nothing new," said Brian Brown, president of the National Organization for Marriage (NOM), which supports traditional marriage and laws such as DOMA. Gay activists lose when gay marriage goes before the people, "so they are trying to impose it through the courts," he said, even though "DOMA is clearly constitutional."
DOMA — enacted when the gay-marriage debate was heating up in Hawaii and lawmakers realized the federal government and all states could be forced to recognize Hawaiian gay marriages — clarifies that for federal purposes, marriage is the union of one man and one woman, and that states are not obligated to recognize gay marriages from out of state. The law passed with broad bipartisan support and President Clinton signed it.
The new GLAD lawsuit, Pedersen, et al. v. Office of Personnel Management, is GLAD's second legal challenge to DOMA. In March 2009, it filed Gill, et al. v. Office of Personnel Management.
In July 2009, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts sued the Departments of Health and Human Services and Veterans Affairs for denying federal benefits to the state's legally married gay couples.
In July of this year, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro sided in part with both the Gill and Massachusetts plaintiffs, saying that DOMA's restriction on federal benefits to gay couples was unconstitutional. The Obama administration has appealed Judge Tauro's decision.
Traditional-values groups and legal-defense organizations have criticized the Obama administration for presenting tepid defenses of DOMA. The federal government has a long and strong interest in children being raised by their two biological parents, but the Obama administration "disavowed" arguments such as this in its defense of DOMA, Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel said earlier this year.
The DOMA cases "defy the whole history of marriage in America," Mr. Brown said Tuesday. The federal government has been involved with defining marriage since it told Utah it couldn't join the United States until its marriage laws comported with one man-one woman unions, said Mr. Brown. "The claims made by GLAD are false."
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