The state of Massachusetts is challenging the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), claiming that the federal law which defines marriage as a union of a man and a woman violates states’ rights and is unjustly discriminatory. One pro-marriage advocate said the move was an attempt to “judicially export” homosexual “marriage.”
DOMA was enacted in part to help protect other states from being required by the full faith and credit cause of the U.S. Constitution to legalize same-sex “marriage” if one state were to do so.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who filed the anti-DOMA suit in U.S. District Court in Boston, charged that the law interferes with the state’s right to define the marital status of residents. The suit also argues the law forces the state to discriminate against same-sex “married” couples on certain health benefits and burial rights or risk losing federal funding, the Boston Globe reports.
“Congress overstepped its authority, undermined states’ efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples, and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people,” the suit says.
More than 16,000 same-sex couples have reportedly “married” in Massachusetts since a state Supreme Court decision which ordered the unions be recognized as legal marriages went into effect in 2004. The suit argued that the practice strengthens “the security and stability of families” in important ways.
Some speculated that Coakley’s action was a preparation for a bid for higher office, possibly for the Massachusetts governorship or for the seat of ailing U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy.
Charles Miller, a spokesman for the Justice Department, said that President Obama supports “legislative repeal” of DOMA because “it prevents LGBT couples from being granted equal rights and benefits.”
“We will review this case,” Miller’s two-sentence statement said, according to the Boston Globe.
The federal government has told Massachusetts that it cannot provide federal funding for MassHealth benefits given to same-sex “spouses.” Further, the state will lose Veterans Affairs funding if it buries the same-sex “spouse” of a veteran in a cemetery, as the state does for regular spouses of veterans.
Tony Perkins, president of the Washington-based Family Research Council, responded to the suit by asking the Justice Department to fulfill its “constitutional duties” and to continue its defense of DOMA against “such frivolous lawsuits.”
Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, said his organization believed the suit will have “no credibility” in the federal courts, pointing out they have already ruled that DOMA is constitutional.
According to the Boston Globe, Arline Isaacson, co-chair of the Massachusetts Gay and Lesbian Political Caucus, noted that the Attorney General used a traditionally conservative argument about states’ rights to challenge the federal law.
CNA spoke about the lawsuit in a Thursday phone interview with Edward F. Saunders, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Catholic Conference.
Making clear that Attorney General Coakley is challenging federal, not state law, Saunders emphasized that the bishops of Massachusetts have “always” held that marriage is “a lifelong union of one man and one woman.”
He said he believed the bishops would question the purpose of the lawsuit, adding that in his view it appears to be “another attempt to weaken traditional marriage.”
Saunders said Catholics should be willing to speak out about the nature of marriage and ask “Where are things going here?”
“They need to remind society of what the institution of marriage is. Actions such as this are attacks on that tradition and institution,” he said.
Saunders explained to CNA that after the initial Massachusetts court decision a constitutional amendment had been proposed to restore the definition of marriage. It required the affirmative votes of two consecutive sessions of the legislators sitting in a constitutional convention. Massachusetts legislators approved the proposal in the first session but did not vote on it in the second.
“They denied their citizens right to vote on the definition,” he said. While this was technically not illegal, Saunders said legislators denied citizens their right to vote on the issue.
C.J. Doyle, executive director of the Catholic Action League, issued a statement on the group’s website which characterized the suit as an effort to “judicially export homosexual marriage to the rest of the country.” He called it “another flagrant attempt by a minority to use the courts to impose its will on the American majority.”
Coakley’s invocation of states’ rights was a “cynical” move, in his view.
“One cannot help but note the shameless hypocrisy of a state government which had refused to allow its own citizens -- the people of Massachusetts -- to vote on the definition of marriage, now claiming that an act of Congress is intruding on its sovereign right of self-government,” Doyle said.