Decision in Gill v. OPM Chips Away at DOMA

Judges find federal ban on same-sex unions unconstitutional

The federal Defense of Marriage Act, which continues to prevent same-sex couples from receiving the same federal benefits as married heterosexual couples, is receiving more heat from supporters and advocates.

Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, in Boston, unanimously found that Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) violates the law. This marks the first time that a Federal Appeals Court has found DOMA unconstitutional.

Section 3 prohibits legally married same-sex couples from any marriage-related federal law or benefit. GLAD successfully argued that DOMA violates the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and wrongfully denies same-sex couples legal protections.

Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD), a Boston-based LGBT legal organization, filed Gill vs. Office of Personnel Management in 2009 on behalf of eight same-sex couples and three individuals who have been denied legal protections.

Although President Obama supports the repeal of DOMA, it is not likely that it will happen within the next four years. Many political experts agree that it will be a long-term proposal, but that the repeal is not impossible. Other non-discriminatory acts, such as the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and the repeal “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” have been passed in the interim since DOMA was signed into law in 1996. There is hope that DOMA will be repealed if the Supreme Court sees the case, though officials say a decision won’t come earlier than 2013.

This decision is a clear step forward in ensuring that same-sex couples will, one day, legally obtain benefits such as social security, family health benefits, estate protections and even joint tax filing. “Today’s momentous decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals is yet another example of the clear pattern of consistent recognition among federal courts that marriage inequality—by any level of government—violates our nation’s core constitutional principles,” said American Foundation for Equal Rights Executive Director Adam Umhoefer, who is sponsoring the federal lawsuit against Proposition 8 in California.  “Whether it is Prop 8 or the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, court after court has affirmed that marriage discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans is unfair, unjust and unconstitutional.”

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