Another positive sign that DOMA's days are numbered as U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa L. Bryant, an appointee of President George W. Bush, ruled on Tuesday that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.
The case, Pedersen et al v. Office of Personnel Management brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), involves six married same-sex couples and one widower from the states of Connecticut, New Hampshire and Vermont. Because of DOMA’s discriminatory definition of marriage as between one man and one woman, the legal marriages of these couples receive no federal recognition. For example, Joanne Pedersen, the lead plaintiff in the case, is retired from the Department of Naval Intelligence and was unable to put her spouse, Ann, on her health plan. The other plaintiffs were denied social security, medical leave, tax and pension benefits solely because they were married to someone of the same sex.
Judge Bryant's ruling found that there is no reason why the plaintiffs' marriages should be treated differently than the marriages of heterosexual couples. In other words, the plaintiffs are entitled to the same federal protections and benefits automatically granted to married opposite-sex couples.
Furthermore, the judge found that laws, such as DOMA, that single out people based on sexual orientation should be subject to a heightened form of judicial scrutiny. However, the judge found that "under even the most deferential level of judicial scrutiny" the provision of DOMA reviewed in this case is a violation of equal protection guarantees and therefore does not pass constitutional muster.
In a press release in response to the victory, GLAD's Civil Rights Project Director, Mary Bonauto said, “We are very pleased that the Court recognized that DOMA’s creation of second-class marriages harms our clients who simply seek the same opportunities to care and provide for each other and for their children that other families enjoy.”
The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) of the U.S. House of Representatives, who has stepped in to defend DOMA after President Obama's Department of Justice stopped doing so, is expected to appeal the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit.
Each new ruling that DOMA is unconstitutional chips away at this unjust law. With several cases proceeding toward the Supreme Court, we are hopeful that DOMA will soon be history, and that the direct harm it causes same-sex couples and their families will be over for good.