The New England-based LGBT group responsible for the most successful lawsuit to date targeting the Defense of Marriage Act on Thursday filed a formal request asking the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down the anti-gay law.
The filing from Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders responds to petitions from the House Republican-led Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group and the U.S. Justice Department calling on the Supreme Court to take up the lawsuit — the consolidated case of Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Department of Health & Human Services.
In a historic decision on May 31, the U.S. First Circuit Court of Appeals overturned Section 3 of DOMA, which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriage, as a result of this litigation.
BLAG, which is defending DOMA under the direction of House Speaker John Boehner, had filed a request with the Supreme Court in June asking justices to overturn the ruling and uphold the constitutionality of the anti-gay law.
In the 39-page brief filed Thursday, GLAD’s lawyers say they agree that “the arguments for a grant of review in this case are strong.” The plaintiffs also present the same question for the Supreme Court to answer as other petitions: does Section 3 of DOMA violate the equal protection guarantee of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution for legally married same-sex couples?
But GLAD and BLAG have wildly different conclusions on what the Supreme Court should determine with regard to this question. In its filing, GLAD says the court shouldn’t “be persuaded by the distorted analysis” put forward by BLAG, and, instead, affirm the First Circuit’s ruling.
“The Court should not be swayed by the arguments on the merits that BLAG chose to present in its petition,” GLAD writes, “[A]s multiple courts have recently recognized, there are compelling arguments that Congress violated the equal protection guarantee when it decided for the first time to deny all recognition to a single class of state-sanctioned marriages.”
GLAD notes BLAG devotes much of its petition to contending the First Circuit was “inventing” a new standard of review in its decision to overturn DOMA. Disputing this argument, GLAD says BLAG “does not accurately characterize the First Circuit’s holding or analysis” and the First Circuit had correctly applied rational basis holdings from earlier cases.
GLAD lays out several reasons why the First Circuit ruled that DOMA is unconstitutional, saying Congress could only have passed DOMA out of animus toward gay people.
“Whether animated by ‘moral disapproval’ toward gay men and lesbians, open hostility, ‘insensitivity’ to the lives of the people against whom they were discriminating, or simply a reaction against people who ‘appear[ed] to be different,’ Congress enacted a statute whose object was to subject gay men and lesbians to different, and less-favorable, treatment,” the brief states. “This Congress may not do.”
Additionally, GLAD says the Supreme Court should take up the case to establish that laws targeting gay Americans should be subject to heightened scrutiny, on the assumption that they’re unconstitutional.
“Because DOMA imposes indisputable de jure discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation, this case presents an ideal vehicle for this Court to clarify how courts should scrutinize such laws going forward, and to ensure that lower courts afford gay men and lesbians the constitutional protections to which they are entitled under a proper application of the Equal Protection Clause,” the brief states.
The Obama administration announced it held the view that laws related to sexual orientation should be subjected to heightened scrutiny at the same time it announced it would no longer defend DOMA in court in February 2011. BLAG, under the direction of House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) following a party-line vote, has since taken up defense of DOMA.
GLAD is now one of several groups asking the Supreme Court to examine the constitutionality of DOMA. The Justice Department has asked the high court to take up the Massachusetts case as well as a California lawsuit known as Golinski v. United States. Additionally, New York widower Edith Windsor has asked the Supreme Court to take up her lawsuit against DOMA filed by the American Civil Liberties Union as has New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn in a jointly filed friend-of-the-court brief.
The Supreme Court won’t decide whether it will take up DOMA until Sept. 24. The high court will begin hearing arguments for its 2012-2013 term in October.
In the meantime, Aug. 31 is the last day for BLAG to respond to or oppose the Justice Department’s petition, and Sept. 10 is the last day for the Justice Department to reply to BLAG. Additionally, BLAG can choose to reply to GLAD’s filing. There’s no set deadline for that, but normally, that would occur within 10 days.