DOMA Lawsuits: Can We Win?

The gay community faced a huge hurdle when President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act into law in 1996. It pretty much said that the United States of America does not recognize gay marriage, even if some its states do. It also allows other states to deny recognition of same-sex rights that are given in another state, which goes against the Constitution’s stance on interstate contracts.

While some lawsuits have failed in the past, recent lawsuits are much different and have a chance of succeeding. First, the plaintiffs in the current cases are already married rather than wanting to get married. A lawsuit filed in Massachusetts claims that the federal government should recognize their marriage, even if other states won’t. Gay marriage has been legal in Massachusetts for over 5 years, and the plaintiffs are finally asking for their federal rights such as Social Security and income tax breaks. Normally, married people can file a joint-tax return. Gay couples have to file a couple of tax forms if they are married.


Here is a quick breakdown of some of the lawsuits:

  • The Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) lawsuit challenges the section of DOMA that denies federal benefits to married gay couples including Social Security, tax breaks, and health insurance. The way couples are treated in Massachusetts is unequal.

  • The state of Massachusetts also filed a lawsuit that goes along with the GLAD lawsuit. Attorney General Martha Coakley states that DOMA forces Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens by making the state manage federal benefits that are not available to all of its married citizens. What is particularly interesting about this lawsuit is that it asserts that Congress overstepped its constitutional authority to legislate over a matter that has traditionally been a matter of state law only. I think this has a great chance of being successful, but it will only give benefits to those in states who have legalized gay marriage. A win would legitimatize a further case calling into question the constitutionality of DOMA as a whole.

  • A California lawsuit challenges DOMA as a whole, and it is filed by lawyers who were on opposing sides of the famous Bush v. Gore Supreme Court case. While some gay activists question the timing of such lawsuits, it will definitely garner publicity and reveal many of the inequalities of DOMA. I hope that gay activists don’t interfere with each other and ruin the case. It might have a great shot of winning, especially with the caliber of the legal team.

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