Equality in Marriage Continues to be an Issue in Massachusetts

A recent appeals court decision struck down parts of a federal law that says marriage is only between a man and a woman. The issue is before the court again, and the Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley has requested that the U.S. Supreme Court uphold that court decision. If the Supreme Court takes the case, it would be the first gay marriage case heard by the highest court in the United States.

The Massachusetts AG said that the Defense of Marriage Act, or DOMA, is unconstitutional and discriminates against same sex couples because it does not afford heterosexual couples the same rights as homosexual couples. Some of these rights include filing joint tax returns and benefiting from a spouse’s social security benefits.

A 37-page brief directed to the Supreme Court asks for equality for all marriages across state and federal laws, claiming that these rights must be extended under federal law, not just state law. Opposing parties are asking the court to reverse the lower court ruling that determined the DOMA was unconstitutional.

Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriages in 2004, and in 2009, the state was the first to file a complaint stating that DOMA was unconstitutional. In 2010, a Massachusetts district court ruled DOMA unconstitutional, and the First Circuit Court of Appeals upheld that ruling. The ruling by the appellate court was unanimously upheld by the three-judge panel.

One of the plaintiffs in the lawsuit was a widower of a former U.S. Congressman. The former congressman died in 2006 and his same-sex husband was not eligible to receive the pension that surviving spouses of former congress members receive.

Source: Reuters, “Massachusetts asks U.S. high court to take on gay marriage case,” Ros Krasney, July 24, 2012.

Our firm handles domestic partnership and family law matters for individuals and couples in Massachusetts.