A federal judge in Connecticut has ruled that parts of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples, are unconstitutional.
In a 104-page decision issued Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Vanessa Bryant said the law, known as DOMA, violates the 14th Amendment right to equal protection.
“Section 3 of DOMA obligates the federal government to single out a certain category of marriages as excluded from federal recognition, thereby resulting in an inconsistent distribution of federal marital benefits,” Bryant wrote. She also noted that “many courts have concluded that homosexuals have suffered a long and significant history of purposeful discrimination.”
The ruling came in the case of six married same-sex couples and a widower from Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont who sued after being denied federal benefits, including recognition under the Family and Medical Leave Act, the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program, the federal tax code, Social Security death benefits and the New Hampshire Retirement System’s contribution to Medicare Insurance.
The plaintiffs were represented by GLAD, the Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, which won the Connecticut Supreme Court case legalizing same-sex marriage in 2008.
Several federal judges across the country have issued similar rulings. In late May, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit in Boston also ruled the law unconstitutional. And in early July, the Obama administration asked the U.S. Supreme Court to settle the legal fights over the Defense of Marriage Act.
Gay and lesbian advocates applauded Tuesday’s ruling, but they expected an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit in New York.
DOMA was passed in 1996 and signed into law by President Bill Clinton, and has been the subject of increasing judicial criticism over the years. The Connecticut lawsuit was filed in Hartford in 2010, and the official case name is Petersen v. Office of Personnel Management.
GLAD civil rights director Mary Bonauto commented in a written statement: “Judge Bryant’s ruling is very clear; married people are married and should be treated as such by the federal government…There is no legitimate basis for DOMA’s broad disrespect of the marriages of same-sex couples.”
Plaintiffs Joanne Pedersen and Ann Meitzen have been married in Connecticut since 2008 and have been together 12 years. Pedersen is a retired civilian employee of the Office of Naval Intelligence who is enrolled in the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program. According to the decision, she was told her wife was not eligible as a spouse because she is of the same sex. “I’m thrilled that the court ruled that our marriage commitment should be respected by the federal government just as it is in our home state of Connecticut,” Pedersen said in a statement.
Another plaintiff, Connecticut widower Gerald V. Passaro II, was denied a Social Security lump-sum death benefit when his spouse, Thomas Buckholz, died on Jan 7, 2009. The Social Security Administration said Passaro’s claim “did not meet the requirements under Federal law.”
A third Connecticut couple, Suzanne Artis and Geraldine Artis, married since 2009, are raising three children together. They were not allowed to file with the Internal Revenue Service as “married filing jointly” because, the IRS said, “for federal tax purposes, a marriage means only a legal union between a man and a woman as husband and wife.”
Lawyers with the Connecticut U.S. Attorney’s Office and the U.S. Justice Department, who represented the defendants, didn’t immediately return messages Tuesday.
Other plaintiffs in the lawsuit include Raquel Ardin and Lynda DeForge, of North Hartland, Vt.; Janet Geller and Joanna Marquis, of Goffstown, N.H.; Bradley Kleinerman and James Gehre, of Avon, Conn.; Damon Savoy and John Weiss, of Danbury, Conn., and Gerald Passaro, of Milford, Conn.