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11 November 2010, 5:00 pm One Comment

Politics: GLAAD Files Lawsuits Against DOMA

This post was submitted by Claire Rychlewski

Ann Meitzen of Connecticut has a serious and chronic lung condition. But Meitzen will not be receiving spousal health coverage, because her wife, Joanne Pederson, is being denied a request to put Meitzen on her health insurance plan. The infamous Defense of Marriage Act strikes again, refusing to recognize same-sex marriages, rendering same-sex married couples without basic spousal benefits.

Photo Cred: Christopher Capozziello for The New York Times

“And people are like, ‘How can that be? You’re married in Connecticut, and your marriage is legal.’ And we say, ‘But Joanne is a retired Federal Employee. This is part of the Defense of Marriage Act.’ And they’re like, ‘Are you kidding? That’s not fair!’ and clearly it’s not fair,” Meitzen told wthn.com.

And it certainly isn’t fair. This loophole that DOMA has found effectively delegitimizes legal marriages between same-sex couples at a federal level, a move that is unconstitutional and wrong.

Pederson and Meitzen are just two of many LGBT community members being denied federal rights and protections simply because they are married to a person of the same sex.  As the law stands now, LGBT marriages are legal under state law, but the federal government does not recognize same-sex unions.

But Pederson and Meitzen are refusing to take this lying down. They are two of 11 plaintiffs in The Gay & Lesbian Advocated & Defenders (GLAAD)’s second major lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. Along with Pederson and Meitzen, four other married same-sex couples and one widower—while qualified for spousal benefit or protection—were denied their application by the federal government.

Said Pederson in a GLAAD press release, “Getting married was extremely meaningful to Ann and me. We were shocked to discover that the federal government essentially looks on ours as a second-class marriage.”

Each of the GLAAD lawsuits involve couples from Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire. In each suit, GLAAD argues that DOMA Section 3 violated the federal constitutional guarantee of equal protection, and is also an infringement by the federal government on marriage law—a law that has been always decided on a state level.

“All these people are working people,” said Mary L. Bonauto, director of the Civil Rights project for GLAAD in a press-release video. “They all need the protections that the government provides for married folks. DOMA is hurting real people. And we want to keep the pressure on and make sure that the courts declare it unconstitutional and inoperative at the soonest possible date.”

The plaintiffs of Pederson v OP

A similar challenge by the gay rights legal group in Massachusetts came to a ruling in July from a federal judge saying that the act is unconstitutional. The Obama administration is purported to be appealing this decision. However, in the Massachusetts case, the Justice Department defended DOMA, and based on the comments of spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler, is likely to do so again in the two upcoming cases. “The Justice Department has a longstanding tradition of defending acts of Congress when they are challenged in court,” Schmaler told John Schwartz of The New York Times.

These two new cases being pushed forth may increase pressure on President Obama to follow through on his promises to support gay rights—promises that haven’t really been fulfilled yet in his time of office. While Obama has called for the repeal of DOMA, naming it discriminatory, he also has said in the past that he supports civil unions but not same-sex marriage. However, when speaking last month with progressive liberal bloggers, including AMERICAblog Gay, Obama said that “attitudes evolve,” and that he had been thinking about the issue a lot lately. Hopefully these lawsuits will cause him to think a lot more about the issue, and work with Congress to repeal repressive acts like DOMA.

The National Organization for Marriage, a group that supports DOMA, cites in their mission statement that “Gays and Lesbians have a right to live as they choose; they don’t have the right to redefine marriage for all of us.” Right, because clearly the LGBT community wants marriage rights only to spite the straight community. Maggie Gallagher, chairwoman for NOM, said to The New York Times that court challenges to DOMA prove that gay rights advocates “continue to push a primarily court-based strategy of, in our view, inventing rights that neither the founders nor the majority of Americans can recognize in our Constitution,” a remark that makes little sense, seeing as marriage is, and always has been, considered mandated at a state level.

If GLAAD wins this legal battle, it would mean a repeal of Section 3 of  DOMA— the federal government could not deny same-sex married couples the rights to retirees benefits programs, Social Security benefits, survivor benefits under federal pension laws, work leave to care for a spouse under the Family Medical Leave Act, and state retiree health insurance plans.  It would mean that all same-sex couples, legally married by the state, could count on having the same medical benefits as heterosexual married couples do when times get tough. It would mean that Lynda DeForge, another plaintiff in the suit, could take off work to care for her wife who has degenerative arthritis. It would mean an admission of the rights that the LGBT community should have always had.

For Pederson and Meitzen, this is a matter of what would seem to be obvious injustice. The two have been together for 12 years, and were married in 2008. Their marriage is recognized by the state of Connecticut, and marriage law has historically been state regulated. Pederson is a civilian retiree from the Department of Naval Intelligence, and adding Meitzen to her federal employee health benefits program would save both women hundreds of dollars a month.

Both have been married to men, and have children. The irony that the federal government would not have denied them their rights during their heterosexual marriages is not lost on either.

“If we were heterosexual, we wouldn’t be talking today, because we would have the benefits,” Pedersen told Schwartz. “I would just like the federal government to recognize our marriage as just as real as everybody else’s.”

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One Comment »

  • Marcy said:

    There’s an error in this post! It’s GLAD, not GLAAD. GLAAD is the Gay and Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.