Senate Republicans are arguing the Defense of Marriage Act should be upheld as constitutional because withholding federal benefits from gay couples discourages states from legalizing same-sex marriage.
The 30-page friend-of-the-court brief, filed before the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 29, argues that Section 3 of DOMA promotes the restriction of marriage to one man, one man while by “removing an incentive” to change state law.
“The prospect of obtaining numerous federal benefits for same-sex couples could be a tremendous weapon in the arsenal of those who would seek to gain recognition of same-sex marriage at the state level,” the brief states. “It would be particularly tempting for courts to recognize same-sex marriage in order to award federal benefits to sympathetic plaintiffs.”
The brief was filed in the case of Windsor v. United States on behalf of 10 Senate Republicans: Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.), Dan Coats (R-Ind.), Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Richard Shelby (R-Ala.), and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.).
Grassley’s participation in the brief is notable because the state he represents in the U.S. Senate, Iowa, is among the nine where same-sex marriage is legal. Also of note are the scant 10 signatures on the brief, which falls short of even one-fourth of the 45 members of the Senate GOP caucus.
Fred Sainz, vice president of communications for the Human Rights Campaign, said the brief’s argument that DOMA should be upheld to discourage efforts to legalize same-sex marriage at the state level demonstrates how “arguments made by our opponents get more tortured with every passing day.”
“This is a great example of how far down the rabbit hole they have to go to find justifications for discrimination,” Sainz said. “In essence, the senators are arguing that committed and loving gay and lesbian couples want to get married just for the benefits. Not only is it a ridiculous argument, it’s an affront to our humanity and any reasonable American would see it as such.”
The brief has three main arguments for why DOMA should be upheld: 1) DOMA didn’t change federal law, but reaffirmed the existing definition of marriage; 2) DOMA promotes a government interest in ensuring uniformity in existing law on marriage; and 3) DOMA ensures federal benefits won’t be used to “undermine traditional marriage” at the state level.
Additionally, the brief notes that one of the friends of the court, Hatch, was chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time DOMA was signed into law and received assurances from the Justice Department the measure would be constitutional. The Obama administration has since said the law violates the U.S. Constitution, and won’t defend the law in court.
“If the Department believed that there was an inadequate federal interest to justify DOMA, the time to speak was in 1996, when Congress gave careful consideration to the need for DOMA,” the brief states. “Rather than urging the courts to give appropriate deference to an Act of Congress, as befits its proper role in our system of government, the Department now groundlessly impugns the motives of the overwhelming bipartisan majority that supported DOMA.”
The brief also disputes the notion that Congress passed DOMA in 1996 out of animus of the basis of the bipartisan support the measure enjoyed at the time, including from then-President Bill Clinton, who signed the measure into law. Clinton has since called for repeal of DOMA.
“The fact that DOMA passed both houses of Congress with overwhelming support across the political spectrum, and was signed by into law by President Clinton, further undercuts any attempt to characterize it as the result of unconstitutional ‘animus,’” the brief states. “Many DOMA supporters were on record as opposing discrimination against gays and lesbians.”
The attorney who signed the brief is Michael Stern, an attorney based in Fairfax, Va., who’s contributed to Republican political campaigns.
[h/t] Equality on Trial