A federal appeals court in Boston on Wednesday heard oral arguments in a case filed on behalf of married same-sex couples and widows who maintain the portion of the Defense of Marriage Act that prohibits the federal government from recognizing nuptials of gays and lesbians is unconstitutional.
“Marriages of same-sex couples in Massachusetts are still not recognized by the federal government because of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act,” noted MassEquality executive director Kara Suffredini in a statement released hours before the hearing. “In addition to being immoral, this inequality means that married same-sex couples do not have access to many of the safety nets afforded other married couples: social security survivor benefits; Medicaid long-term care benefits; spousal veteran benefits; or rights of inheritance. DOMA has, in short, created an indefensible two-tiered system of treatment for married couples based solely on the gender of the spouses.”
These inequities have certainly made headlines in recent months.
Disabled Army veteran Tracey Cooper-Harris sued the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs in February after her application for spousal benefits for her wife was denied. Eight gay and lesbian servicemembers and veterans challenged DOMA’s constitutionality in a suit they filed in federal court in Boston last October. Five same-sex bi-national couples maintain in a separate lawsuit they filed in New York on Monday that Section 3 of the statute unfairly prohibits them from sponsoring their partners for immigration purposes.
New Hampshire guardsman Charlie Morgan, who has terminal cancer, urged House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) to stop defending the law that then-President Bill Clinton signed into law in 1996 during a meeting with policy advisor Katherine Haley on Capitol Hill in February. President Barack Obama announced in Feb. 2011 that his administration would no longer defend DOMA in federal court. The White House has also endorsed a bill that would repeal the statute, but the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group in the U.S. House of Representatives continues to defend it.
The defeat of a bill that would have repealed New Hampshire’s marriage equality law and the passage of statutes in Maryland, New Jersey and Washington that will allow same-sex couples to marry are a clear indication that nuptials for gays and lesbians will remain in the spotlight for the foreseeable future. It is time to address the inequalities that same-sex couples continue to face because of a lack of marriage equality once and for all.