U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa L. Bryant today held in a federal case in Connecticut that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act — the federal definition of marriage — is unconstitutional.
Bryant, in a case brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, follows several other federal judges over the past two years to have reached the same conclusion. Federal judges in Massachusetts, California, and New York also have found DOMA’s provision defining “marriage” and “spouse” as only being unions of one man and one woman in all federal laws unconstitutional, as well as one federal appeals court.
Bryant, who was appointed to the bench by President George W, Bush in 2007, found that laws that classify people based on sexual orientation should be subject to heightened scrutiny by courts, but eventually found the provision of the 1996 law unconstitutional “even under the most deferential level of judicial scrutiny.”
In her decision in the case, Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management, Bryant found, as first reported by Buzzfeed:
Having considered all four factors, this Court finds that homosexuals display all the traditional indicia of suspectness and therefore statutory classifications based on sexual orientation are entitled to a heightened form of judicial scrutiny.
However, the Court need not apply a form of heightened scrutiny in the instant case to conclude that DOMA violates the promise of the equal protection as it is clear that DOMA fails to pass constitutional muster under even the most deferential level of judicial scrutiny.
She later concluded:
In sum, having considered the purported rational bases proffered by both BLAG and Congress and concluded that such objectives bear no rational relationship to Section 3 of DOMA as a legislative scheme, the Court finds that no conceivable rational basis exists for the provision. The provision therefore violates the equal protection principles incorporated in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
The plaintiffs in the case are five couples and a widower from Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire who have been denied the federal benefits, including benefits afforded to the spouses of federal employees. The lead plaintiff is Joanne Pedersen, who retired from a civilian position within the Department of the Navy after 30 years and is seeking health benefits for her spouse, Ann Meitzen.
The Washington Blade reports that Pedersen is “thrilled” the court ruled her marriage should be respected by the federal government just as it is in her home state of Connecticut, which legalized same-sex marriage in 2008.
“I loved working for the Navy for many years, and now that I am retired I now just want to care for my wife and make sure we can enjoy some happy and healthy years together,” Pedersen said. “DOMA has prevented us from doing that.”
The ruling comes as the Supreme Court is facing requests in several cases to decide the question of DOMA’s constitutionality once and for all. Several courts at various levels have made rulings against DOMA. The tally now stands at five district courts, one appeals court and one bankruptcy court. In addition, a number of parties both for and against DOMA have asked the Supreme Court to consider the constitutionality of DOMA.
Hooray for U.S. District Court Judge Vanessa L. Bryant!
Photo Credit: ManHattanMini