A Massachusetts federal court decision striking down as unconstitutional a section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act will go on hold pending any appeal by the government.
The U.S. Department of Justice and parties represented by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders on Wednesday agreed to a stay of the decision issued by U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro last month in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management.
At the same time, the judge issued an amended judgment which described what his July decision means for each plaintiff -- seven married, same-sex couples and three widowers. That judgment was agreed to by both the group and the department.
"We agreed to a stay for two reasons," said Mary Bonauto, civil rights project director at the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, in a statement. "First and foremost, it is in our clients' best interest. They want the certainty of knowing that their Social Security payments, health insurance costs, or tax refunds are not potentially subject to repayment to the government. Only a final victory ensures that.
"Second, we think the stay actually provides clarity for married couples around the country who are looking at their own situations and wondering whether the Gill decision allows them to apply for Social Security benefits, for example, or sponsor their spouse for citizenship. The answer, even without a stay in Gill, is: no, not yet."
A Justice department spokeswoman said no decision has been made yet on an appeal to the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The department has 60 days to file a notice of appeal.
"We are more than ready to deal with an appeal," said Bonauto. "We have confidence in the strength and justice of our case."
The Gill suit successfully challenged on equal protection grounds the use of DOMA Section 3 to deny spousal protections in Social Security, federal income tax, federal employees' and retirees' benefits, and in the issuance of passports. Passed in 1996, DOMA Section 3 limits the marriages the federal government will respect to those between a man and a woman.
The district court also found the same provision unconstitutional on 10th Amendment and spending clause grounds in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Dept. of Health & Human Services.
Co-counsel in the Gill case included attorneys from the firms Foley Hoag, Sullivan & Worcester, Jenner & Block, and Kator, Parks & Weiser.