Two New Lawsuits Challenge the Defense of Marriage Act

There are new developments this week in the effort to overturn the federal “Defense of Marriage Act” (DOMA), which in 1996 limited the definition of marriage to a union between one man and woman.

On Tuesday, two separate lawsuits were filed calling the law unconstitutional. The Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) filed a lawsuit in Connecticut on behalf of five couples and a widower from New England states with marriage equality, including plaintiffs Joanne Pedersen and Ann Meitzen. Pedersen has tried repeatedly to place Meitzen—who has chronic health problems—on her insurance plan, but has been unsuccessful because the federal government does not recognize their marriage. Pedersen et al. v. Office of Personnel Management will specifically challenge “DOMA’s Section 3, which defines ‘marriage’ and ‘spouse’ in federal law as being limited only to opposite-sex couples,” according to Metro Weekly. The lawsuit will also reach to “state and private corporation discriminatory treatment resulting from DOMA,” expanding on the successful July ruling from Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, said Metro Weekly in a related article.

GLAD profiles each of the couples they represent on their website. “For me marriage was wonderful,” says Pedersen. “It meant a lot. I wanted to feel like everybody else did when they got married—to love somebody, but I wanted to be recognized.” Meitzen added, “We wanted to have the same thing that everyone had.” Mary L. Bonauto, GLAD's Civil Rights Project Director, adds, "DOMA must fall. In 1996, when Congress passed DOMA, the stated goal was to harm gay people and same-sex families with this law, and sadly, it has succeeded. Married gay and lesbian couples fall through the federal safety nets that exist for other married people."

Meanwhile, the New York chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union also filed a lawsuit on Tuesday on behalf of Edith Windsor, who was ordered to pay $350,000 in real estate taxes to the government after the death of her spouse Thea Spyer. Windsor is 81 years old, and married her spouse in Canada after they had been together for 41 years. “If Thea were Theo, she would have been able to pass her estate to Edie tax-free,” said Roberta Kaplan, a partner at the firm who is working on the case. In reference to the GLAD lawsuit, she commented, “I think the two cases complement each other very well.”

Windsor has been a “trailblazing gay rights activist,” according to the New York Daily News. She and Spyer starred in the documentary “Edie and Thea: A Very Long Engagement” in 2009.

The two lawsuits have garnered coverage in local and national media outlets. The New York Times reports that DOMA currently affects 1,138 federal laws and protections.

GLAAD will continue to monitor coverage of these developments.

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