Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Mass. sues federal gov't over marriage definition

I knew that the marriage debate would hit a federal level soon enough, but this isn't how I expected it to come up. According to the Associated Press, it appears that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts has sued the federal government today, arguing that the Defense of Marriage Act interferes with the state's ability to define and regulate marriage as it sees fit.

More from the AP story:

The lawsuit, filed in federal court in Boston, argues the act "constitutes an overreaching and discriminatory federal law." It says the approximately 16,000 same-sex couples who have married in Massachusetts since the state began performing gay marriages in 2004 are being unfairly denied federal benefits given to heterosexual couples.

Besides Massachusetts, five other states — Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire, Maine and Iowa — have legalized gay marriage. Gay marriage opponents in Maine said Wednesday that they had collected enough signatures to put the state's new law on the November ballot for a possible override.

The Massachusetts lawsuit challenges the section of the federal law that creates a federal definition of marriage as "a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife."

Before the law was passed, Coakley said, the federal government recognized that defining marital status was the "exclusive prerogative of the states." Now, because of the U.S. law's definition of marriage, same-sex couples are denied access to benefits given to heterosexual married couples, including federal income tax credits, employment benefits, retirement benefits, health insurance coverage and Social Security payments, the lawsuit says.

The lawsuit also argues that the federal law requires the state to violate the constitutional rights of its citizens by treating married heterosexual couples and married same-sex couples differently when determining eligibility for Medicaid benefits and when determining whether the spouse of a veteran can be buried in a Massachusetts veterans' cemetery.

As the article notes, Pres. Obama has said he plans to repeal DOMA. Going through the legal system is a different way to approach the issue - one that, as precedent holds, seems to be comfortable and familiar for the same-sex marriage camp. Not one state that's approved same-sex marriage has done so by the voice of the people; rather, it's been legislated from the bench or voted on by lawmakers (in spite of their constituents' views in some cases).

So, this case should be interesting to watch. What's the precedent for states suing the federal gov't? As far as I remember from college, it seems like in most state-federal cases, the court rulings tend to favor a stronger national government and diminish states' abilities to make decisions for themselves.

Personally, I love the federalism concept as established by the Founders, with states making the decisions their constituents need while the national government sticks with issues states can't, such as national defense. Alas, that view seems to be more and more the minority view. What do you think?


Euripides said...

I'd like to know who's behind the law suit. Follow the money, so to speak. Tim Gill anyone?