Why is Massachusetts Challenging DOMA?

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July 8, 2009 by D Stack

The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.

– 10th Amendment to US Constitution

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word `marriage’ means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word `spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.’.

H.R. 3396, Defense of Marriage Act

Today Martha Coakley, Attorney General for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, filed suit challenging the Defense of Marriage Act. Why do it? And why do it now when everything seems to be such a big mess with unemployment at a gazillion percent, tax revenues down, and it being over two years since a Patriots Superbowl Championship?

Why do it in the first place? One of the States of the United States, specifically the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, has through its Supreme Judicial Court, decided that same sex marriage is legal. The Constitution of the United States makes no mention of what defines marriage. Nor does it specify that the States are forbidden from defining marriage. However, the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) restricts the definition of marriage. Attorney General Coakley has estimated there are some 1100 rights denied to same-sex couples in Massachusetts as a result of DOMA. These include:

  • In the event of the death of a spouse, the right to Social Security benefits
  • The right to file jointly on Federal Income Tax returns
  • The right to use a spouse’s medical insurance without paying taxes on the value of that insurance

Why now? To be honest I think this is overdue. For over five years now DOMA has been used to deny the benefits of marriage to a subset of legally married couples in Massachusetts. Would this be considered to be a bad time to contest a law that defined marriage as being between two Christians? Perhaps between two Catholics? And no one else gets the benefits of marriage? You couldn’t challenge that law fast enough.

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