Bil Browning

We Won! Two big marriage victories today

Filed By Bil Browning | July 08, 2010 6:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Marriage Equality, Politics
Tags: Attorney General, DOMA, gay marriage, Gill, GLAD, marriage equality, Massachusetts, Office of Personnel Management, same-sex marriage

Big news on the marriage front today. Marriage equality advocates won two court battles challenging the Defense of Marriage Act in federal court.

Judge Joseph Tauro of the U.S. District Court for the District of Massachusetts handed down decisions in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services. The two separate cases were tried in the same court.

Tauro, nominated to the court by President Richard Nixon, found in Gill that Section 3 of DOMA violates the Due Process clause of the Fifth Amendment that requires equal protection under the law. In Massachusetts, the court ruled that DOMA also violated the Tenth Amendment - the ability for states to define marriage on their own.

Copies of the judgments are after the jump along with the usual statements from the orgs as they come in. With so many marriage advocate bloggers on Bilerico, I'm sure someone will step up soon with a thorough dissection after having enough time to read the decisions.

US District Court Decision: Gill vs Office of Personnel Management

Decision in Gill v. OPM

Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services

DOMA decision in Mass AG case

Human Rights Campaign President Joe Solmonese

"Today's decision is a confirmation of what every lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender American knows to be a basic truth - we, and our families, are equal. This is an important step forward, but there is a long path ahead before we see this discriminatory law consigned to the dustbin of history. We thank our friends at Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, their courageous plaintiffs and Attorney General Coakley for standing up on behalf of married same-sex couples across the country and for their continued commitment to equality as these cases move forward. Judge Tauro's decisions make clear that there is no constitutional justification for DOMA, despite the Department of Justice's contentions in defending the statute. While we expect the Department to continue to defend DOMA on appeal, we urge the Obama administration to push Congress to repeal a law that we know, and Judge Tauro recognized, serves no purpose but to denigrate our families."

GLAD Civil Rights Project Director and Lead Attorney for the Gill Case

"Today the Court simply affirmed that our country won't tolerate second-class marriages. I'm pleased that Judge Tauro recognized that married same-sex couples and surviving spouses have been seriously harmed by DOMA and that the plaintiffs deserve the same opportunities to care and provide for each other and for their children that other families enjoy. This ruling will make a real difference for countless families in Massachusetts."

Plaintiff Nancy Gill

"I am thrilled that my family will now be treated in the same way as those of my married co-workers at the post office. Marcelle and I married out of love and commitment to each other first and foremost, but federal recognition of our marriage means that we'll have equal access to important protections for our two children and for ourselves."

Freedom To Marry Executive Director Evan Wolfson

"Today's historic ruling strikes down federal marriage discrimination enacted under the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" in 1996. DOMA created two classes of marriage - those the federal government respects and some it doesn't - denying married same sex couples and their families equal treatment and depriving them of the crucial safety-net that marriage brings. In Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management, eight married same-sex couples and three widowers, represented by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, demonstrated that federal marriage discrimination harms gay and lesbian couples who are trying to make ends meet and protect their families.

"Today's ruling affirms what we have long known: federal discrimination enacted under DOMA is unconstitutional. The decision will be appealed and litigation will continue. But what we witnessed in the courtroom cannot be erased: federal marriage discrimination harms committed same-sex couples and their families for no good reason. Today's ruling provides increased momentum to the national movement to end exclusion from marriage and Freedom to Marry's Roadmap to secure the freedom to marry nationwide. The crucial work of changing hearts and minds and winning the freedom to marry in more states is more urgent than ever as we build on today's momentum and encourage other decision-makers to do the right thing and end exclusion from marriage."

Jennifer C. Pizer, National Marriage Project Director for Lambda Legal

"Today's decisions mark immensely important and inspiring steps toward equality for all families under American law. Since 1996, the so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act' has defended no one, while imposing senseless and cruel discrimination against married same-sex couples and their families. We applaud Judge Tauro's conclusion today that Congress acted beyond its authority when it used the massive power of the federal government to impose a discriminatory marriage definition on the states. With today's decisions, the federal court orders that the heavy hand of the U.S. government must be lifted off the scales of justice, so all legally married people - gay and straight alike - can receive the same treatment under U.S. law and in federal benefit programs.

"We applaud the outstanding work of our colleagues at GLAD and the vision of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts that went to court to defend married same-sex couples in their state, and the courage of the plaintiffs in Gill for standing up for justice."

MassEquality Interim Executive Director Paula Herrington

"This is a tremendous victory and we congratulate our partners at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders for their successful litigation of this case. Married couples in Massachusetts are treated differently based on their sexual orientation. One set of them have access to the 1,000-plus benefits of marriage offered by the federal government, and the other set, those who happen to be married to someone of the same sex, do not. That's unfair and it's a classic example of unequal treatment under the law. We are pleased with Judge Tauro's decision in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and hope that the ruling paves the way to a repeal of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

"At the same time, we note the irony of the timing of Judge Tauro's decision. Earlier this week, on Monday, Hawaii Governor Laura Lingle vetoed a civil unions bill passed by the Hawaii legislature that would have given same-sex couples in Hawaii access to the state benefits of marriage. Of course, it was the marriage movement in Hawaii in the mid-1990s that spurred Congress to pass the Defense of Marriage Act in the first place.

"It will take time, but we will see full marriage equality for LGBT people in every state in this country, and under federal law. To paraphrase Martin Luther King, the arc of the moral universe is long, but Judge Tauro's decision today helped bend it toward justice."

One Iowa Executive Director Carolyn Jenison

"This ruling is welcome news to married couples in Iowa. Section 3 of DOMA has unfairly denied federal-level protections to committed, married same-sex couples in states like Iowa. We excitedly await the day when our federal government treats us equally in the same manner as we are treated by the state of Iowa. Today's decision brings us one step closer."


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Chitown Kev | July 8, 2010 6:27 PM

Bil, yes, this is bigger than Ben Andrews to be sure but I believe that these cases only struck down Section 3 of DOMA.

Good call. I added "Section 3" in the 3rd paragraph to make sure that was clear.

It'll be funny to watch the rightwing on this one - they've based their entire constitutional theory over the last couple of years on the second and tenth amendments. You can have a gun, and righteous states can reject whatever our socialist/kenyan/terrorist/pacifist president does. Now there's a high-profile tenth-amendment win, but something tells me they're not going to be going around telling everyone about this victory.

Actually, I take that back. It won't be funny, they'll just call this judicial activism even though it's the exact sort of legal reasoning they want just because they don't like the result.

Don Sherfick Don Sherfick | July 9, 2010 7:06 AM

Andrew Sullivan has picked up on the 10th amendment thing, too, and promises more today. The flip side, of course, that it also allies the concept of "states rights" with marriage equality, something that doesn't set well with the progressive camp due to its roots in the race discrimination arena. Having it both ways can get tricky.

John Gagon | July 8, 2010 7:11 PM

I thought equal protection was 14th amendment. Due process is 5th.

Ellen Andersen | July 8, 2010 11:04 PM

Hi John,

Under evolving caselaw, the 5th Amendment is treats "equal protection" one of the liberties protected by due process. (The language states that "No person shall...be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.)

That's the confusing answer. The simpler answer is that states violate the 14th amendment when they deny equal protection or due process of law. The federal government violates the 5th Amendment when it does one or the other.

i have a "notes version" of mass v hhs done; it'll take a few hours finish.

i'm just starting gill v opm; it may take up to 18 hours as i have to do "actual life" today.

if it's possible i'll combine the two, but that will depend on "degree of difficulty" in getting the story under 1500 words; a two-parter may be required, because of length.

I'm not sure how jublient we should be on this one. Does this possibly mean we are stuck with a "state-by-state" fight for marriage equality (or any other kind of equal treatment)?

Dear bjohnm,

How jubilant should we be? Plenty.

1. Look at how many other judicial decisions, even in very small admin rulings, Justice Tauro used in these 2 decisions. This elevates the reach of every one of those, and now these 2 decisions likewise become use-able analytical building material for the future.

2. And even if it doesn't result in a nationwide knockout of DOMA, check how many approving references he made to the work of US Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy, who will likely decide the fate of same-sex marriage if it gets to the Court. It's a nice set-up by a highly respected legal mind.

3. The man who wrote these two DOMA decisions, Justice Joseph Tauro, is a Nixon appointee, a military veteran, a married heterosexual, and almost 80 years old. And he's written some very conservative opinions. Not exactly the model of "judicial activism."

4. Because Justice Tauro carefully smashed the "procreation" argument to smithereens in his decisions here, and because procreation is the sole basis the Prop. 8 defenders used (in court), this decision is a big help for the OTHER federal judge currently preparing a decision, Justice Vaughn Walker in California's Prop. 8 case. It's some nice analytical breathing room that the gay judge doesn't have to be the first federal justice to say that the procreation argument has zero relevance to same-sex marriage.