State of Massachusetts requests Supreme Court hearing of Defense of Marriage Act

On Tuesday, July 24, Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley called upon the Supreme Court to take on a pair of lawsuits that challenge Section 3 of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the section of DOMA that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.

Coakley filed a brief on behalf of the State of Massachusetts asking justices to determine whether Section 3 of DOMA violates the Tenth Amendment and the spending clause of the U.S. Constitution. Her brief was filed regarding Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services, but the case has been effectively consolidated with Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, since both cases concern DOMA's Section 3 and have been heard together in lower court decisions. An appellate court has already found DOMA's Section 3 to be unconstitutional in both cases. Coakley's brief asks the higher court to affirm the decision made by the lower court earlier this year. 

The brief reads:

The Commonwealth agrees with the court of appeals' judgment that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional and normally would oppose further review in order to ensure that the judgment takes effect as soon as possible. However, the Commonwealth recognizes that the question is one of national importance and that this Court is likely to review it in the near future, if only to ensure uniformity in the enforcement or non-enforcement of DOMA throughout the country.

The Democratic Attorney General's lawyers believe the Supreme Court should take on the new case in addition to others because it would present justices with a "full range" of challenges to DOMA. Such challenges include violations to the Tenth Amendment, Spending Clause of the U.S. Constitution, questions about equal protection and the level of scrutiny courts should give to laws classifying individuals as gay or lesbian in addition to determining whether DOMA's definitions of marriage and spouse are constitutional.

Coakley's request is now the fifth request before the Supreme Court to take one or more of three DOMA cases. Last week, Edith Windsor, the plaintiff in Windsor v. United States, urged the Supreme Court to hear her case, and previously, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group have also filed petitions to the Supreme Court. 

Coakley reflected on her case and explained why it matters to her that the Supreme Court review DOMA and make a decision. She said:

It is our firm conviction that in order to truly achieve marriage equality all couples must enjoy the same rights and protections under both state and federal law. If the Supreme Court chooses to examine this case, we will look forward to once again making clear that DOMA and its pervasive discrimination is unconstitutional and should be ended.

Justices of the Court will return from their summer recess on September 24, but they will most likely decide whether or not to review one or more of the DOMA-challenging cases at some point in October. 

Read more about the on-going challenges to DOMA here