A federal judge in Connecticut on Tuesday ruled that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection under the law.
Judge Vanessa L. Bryant, an appointee of President George W. Bush, held that the law was unconstitutional because it prohibits legally married same sex couples from receiving federal benefits. DOMA defines marriage as the legal union between a man and a woman, contradicting six states that allow same sex couples to marry.
“Section 3 of DOMA obligates the federal government to single out a certain category of marriages as excluded from federal recognition,” Bryant wrote, “thereby resulting in an inconsistent distribution of federal marriage benefits as all marriages authorized by certain states will receive recognition and marital benefits, whereas only a portion of marriages authorized by other states will receive federal recognition and benefits.”
The case Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management stems from a lawsuit filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in November 2010 on behalf of six married same sex couples and one widower from the state of Connecticut. The plaintiffs alleged that DOMA interfered with Family Medical Leave Act benefits, federal laws for private pension plans, federal laws concerning state pension plans, federal income taxation, social security benefits, and employment benefits for federal employees and retirees.
“I’m thrilled that the court ruled that our marriage commitment should be respected by the federal government just as it is in our home state of Connecticut,” said Joanne Pedersen, who is a plaintiff with her spouse, Ann Meitzen. Pedersen is unable to cover Ann on her health insurance plan because of DOMA.
“I loved working for the Navy for many years, and now that I am retired I now just want to care for my wife and make sure we can enjoy some happy and healthy years together,” Pedersen said. “DOMA has prevented us from doing that.”
The Obama administration has refused to defend the statute, but the U.S. government is still defending the law thanks to Republicans in Congress.
After Obama directed the Department of Justice to no longer the law, the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) voted along party lines to direct the House General Counsel to appointed an attorney to represent the government in the case. The five-member advisory group has the authority to instruct the non-partisan office of the House General Counsel to take legal action on behalf of the U.S. House of Representatives.
Courts across the country have ruled that Section 3 of DOMA violates the Fifth Amendment to the Constitution.
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