As regular readers know I view the Federal Defense of Marriage Act ("DOMA") as nothing less than unconstitutional religious based discrimination writ large in the federal law. Under DOMA, anyone who doesn't buy into the far right Christian view of marriage is deprived of equal protection under the laws of the United States. In my opinion, religious belief - especial hate and fear based Christianist religious belief - needs to be totally stripped from the civil laws. Thus, I applaud the lawsuit filed by Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (called McLaughlin v. Panetta), which challenges both DOMA and Title 10, Title 32 and Title 38 of U.S. Code, which prevent the military from providing benefits to the partners of gay troops. The Washington Blade looks at the new lawsuit filing. Here are some story highlights:
Gay troops and veterans joined the fight against the Defense of Marriage Act in court on Thursday by filing new litigation challenging the law on the basis that it precludes service members with same-sex partners from receiving crucial benefits.
Servicemembers Legal Defense Network filed the lawsuit, called McLaughlin v. Panetta, behalf of eight plaintiff couples in the District Court of Massachusetts. In addition to challenging DOMA, the litigation also challenges Title 10, Title 32 and Title 38 of U.S. Code, which prevents the military from providing benefits to the partners of gay troops.
Aubrey Sarvis, SLDN’s executive director, said during a news conference at the National Press Club that troops involved in the lawsuit are ”seeking equal recognition, benefits and family support for their same-sex spouses that the services and the Department of Veterans Affairs provides to their straight married peers.”
Federal law prohibits the U.S. government from providing numerous benefits to gay troops. According to SLDN, among them are health insurance benefits, surviving spouse benefits and the issuance of military identification cards.
The lead plaintiff is Army Maj. Shannon McLaughlin, a judge advocate general who serves in the Massachusetts National Guard as chief of legal assistance and is a judge advocate general. She has served for 13 years and is married to her partner of more than three years, Casey McLaughlin. The two are raising ten-month old twins: Grace and Grant McLaughlin.
“For us, this inequity means that Casey is not eligible for health insurance and is unable to come onto post to make use of facilities services and family support that otherwise would be available if we were of the opposite sex,” Shannon McLaughlin said. “It boils down to this: we’ve been serving our country too long, working too hard and sacrificing too much to see our families denied the same recognition, support and benefits as our straight, married counterparts.”
High-ranking members of the Obama administration are named in the lawsuit: U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Defense Secretary Leon Panetta and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki.
The Obama administration has stopped defending DOMA in court, so it’s likely the Justice Department will side with the plaintiffs in this case. Spokespersons for the departments involved in the litigation said the lawsuit remains under review.
“The court has already ruled on the [un]constitutionality of DOMA, it wouldn’t be very hard for it to apply that same analysis to our case,” Man said. “And because the president and the attorney general have indicated they will no longer be defending DOMA, it shouldn’t be must of a contest.”
The litigation is one among several lawsuits challenging DOMA that are making their way through the judicial system. In two cases, Gill v. U.S. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health & Human Services, plaintiffs were set to file a reply with the U.S. First Circuit of Appeals on the same day that the SLDN litigation was initiated. Another case, Pedersen v. OPM, has been filed in the U.S. District Court in Connecticut.