Defense of Marriage Act Under Fire in Courts and Congress

A steady, legal assault on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is underway in Washington, DC.

On Thursday, House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-California) led 132 Democrats in filing a friend-of-the-court brief in a federal court in Boston where civil rights groups are challenging DOMA on behalf of two married couples who want the military to recognize their marriages.

DOMA prohibits gays and lesbians who work for the military to receive the same marriage benefits ensured to same-sex couples by the Pentagon and the Department of Veterans Affairs. The same federal court ruled DOMA unconstitutional last year.

“These couples are in long term, committed, and legally recognized marriages, and the military should not be forced to turn its back on them because the federal government refuses to recognize their families,” said Aubry Sarvis, the director of plaintiff group the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network.

Meanwhile, the Senate Judiciary Committee yesterday began debating the Respect for Marriage Act, a bill that would overturn DOMA. All ten Democrats on the committee are co-sponsors of the bill, and debate will continue next week.

The 1996 law defines marriage as between a man and a woman and prevents states and government groups from being required to recognize same-sex marriages. A dozen lawsuits against DOMA are underway in several states.

The brief filed by Pelosi and her allies argues that Congress acted without caution when it passed DOMA and failed to take into consideration issues surrounding the minority status of gays and lesbians. The brief also claims DOMA is unconstitutional and there is not legitimate federal interest in denying married gay and lesbian the legal security of recognition under federal law.