Saturday, September 23, 2023
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Couples Challenge Defense of Marriage Act

HARTFORD (CN) - A widower and three same-sex spouses sued the federal government, challenging the Defense of Marriage Act. The federal complaint claims the 1996 law is unconstitutional because it prevents the federal government from affording pension and other benefits to same-sex couples in states where gay marriage is legal.

The plaintiffs from Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut say that the Defense of Marriage Act forces them to misstate their marital status to the federal government and requires the federal government to ignore their familial ties.

Lead plaintiff Joanne Pedersen says she could face criminal charges for false statements if she claims Ann Meitzen as her spouse on health benefit forms. Pedersen is a retired Navy officer and has been in a relationship with Meitzen for 12 years.

All the plaintiffs are legally married, except for the widower, who was legally married until his partner died. "Each plaintiff, or his or her spouse, has made one or more requests to the appropriate agencies or authorities within the federal government, or the appropriate state agency subject to federal law, for treatment as a married couple, a spouse, or a widower with respect to particular programs or benefits. Yet each of the plaintiffs has been denied and is still being denied legal protections and benefits under federal law that are available to a similarly situated person married to an individual of a different sex under pertinent Connecticut, Vermont or New Hampshire law," the complaint states.

"With each denial of specific protections or benefits, the defendants, their agents or those subject to their legal directives have invoked the 'Defense of Marriage Act.'"

The complaint adds: "Congress has yet to identify a reason why gay and lesbian individuals who have met their obligations as taxpaying citizens and who are married to someone of the same sex must be denied protections available to persons who are married to someone of a different sex. Singling out same-sex couples who are married among all married persons is simply an expression of an intent to discriminate against gay people."

They sued the Office of Personnel Management, the Treasury Secretary, the Secretary of Labor, the Commissioner of the Social Security Administration, the U.S. Postmaster General, the IRS Commissioner and the U.S. Attorney General.

They are represented by Gary Busseck with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders of Boston.

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