SLDN Challenges DOMA on Behalf of Married Gay and Lesbian Service Members, Veterans

On October 27, 2011, Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN) announced the filing of landmark federal litigation, suing U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta, and Secretary of Veterans Affairs Eric Shinseki, on behalf of current and former service members seeking equal recognition, benefits and family support for equal sacrifice and service in the U.S. Armed Forces. The plaintiffs, each legally married, want the armed services to recognize their families and seek the same family support and benefits for their same-sex spouses that the services and Department of Veterans Affairs provide to opposite-sex spouses.

The case, filed in the District of Massachusetts, challenges the constitutionality of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), as well as provisions in Title 10, Title 32, and Title 38 of U.S. Code, which preclude the military from providing same-sex married couples with the same benefits and family support as their straight, married peers.

Currently, federal law requires the military to ignore these marriages and, therefore, prevents it from providing vitally needed benefits to these legally married spouses, including housing; health care; surviving spouse benefits; the issuance of military identification cards; and morale, welfare, and recreational programs. These inequities were recently spotlighted when Chief Warrant Officer 2 Charlie Morgan of the New Hampshire National Guard, announced today as a plaintiff in this case, was forced to seek intervention from elected officials and the Pentagon in order for her spouse, a part-time special education teacher, to be permitted to attend a yellow-ribbon reintegration ceremony following CW2 Morgan’s return from a deployment to Kuwait.

To learn more about the case, click here.  

UPDATES:

On June 5, 2012, the Department of Justice filed a Motion asking Judge Stearns to stay the case until 30 days after the First Circuit’s mandate in the Gill/Massachusetts case takes effect. On June 6, 2012, SLDN filed an opposition to this motion and asked Judge Stearns to allow the case to go forward at this time. On June 6, 2012 Judge Stearns issued an electronic order granting the full stay of the case until 30 days after the mandate from the First Circuit takes effect.

This means that the case will be stayed until either 1) the Supreme Court decides not to take the Gill/Massachusetts case and denies cert, or 2) takes the Gill/Massachusetts case and issues an opinion on the Equal Protection challenge to DOMA.
To see the documents, click here
 
Update:
On May 16, 2012 Judge Stearns issued an electronic order denying SLDN’s Motion to limit BLAG’s role in the case, and granting BLAG’s motion to intervene as a full party. 

On June 5, 2012, the Department of Justice filed a Motion asking Judge Stearns to stay the case until 30 days after the First Circuit’s mandate in the Gill/Massachusetts case takes effect. On June 6, 2012, SLDN filed an opposition to this motion and asked Judge Stearns to allow the case to go forward at this time. On June 6, 2012 Judge Stearns issued an electronic order granting the full stay of the case until 30 days after the mandate from the First Circuit takes effect.

This means that the case will be stayed until either 1) the Supreme Court decides not to take the Gill/Massachusetts case and denies cert, or 2) takes the Gill/Massachusetts case and issues an opinion on the Equal Protection challenge to DOMA.

Read the Department of Justice's stay request, here

Read the McLaughlin Plaintiffs' response, here

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On May 16, 2012 Judge Stearns issued an electronic order denying SLDN’s Motion to limit BLAG’s role in the case, and granting BLAG’s motion to intervene as a full party. 

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On May 1, 2012, the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) sought permission from the court to intervene in McLaughlin v. Panetta.  This request comes after the Department of Justice's February announcement that they would not defend the constitutionality of DOMA as it related to the military.

Read the press release, here.

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On April 11, 2012, the plaintiffs of McLaughlin v. Panetta asked the court to lift the stay filed in February for the purpose of setting a deadline for potential intervenors of the case.  The Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (BLAG) of the House of Representatives previously noted that they intended to intervene, however, that has not happened. "To help expedite the case and narrow the issues for trial, Plaintiffs ask that the Court set an April 20, 2012 deadline for potential intervenors to seek intervention in this case."

Read the filing, here.

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On February 17, 2012, the Department of Justice sent a letter to House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) stating its position with respect to, McLaughlin et. al v. Panetta et. al., which challenges the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and three federal statutes related to benefits for the spouses of service members and veterans. In the letter, Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the Department of Justice will not defend the constitutionality of DOMA in the military context, just as he has declined to defend it in other contexts.  Also, for the first time, he has stated that separate definitions that apply to military veterans are also unconstitutional.  This is an important step for the McLaughlin plaintiffs.

Read the letter from Attorney General Eric Holder to Speaker Boehner, here.

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On February 15, 2012, U.S. District Court Judge Richard G. Stearns, granted a 60-day additional delay in the McLaughlin v. Pannetta case, allowing the government until Apr. 28 to respond to the lawsuit filed in October 2011.

Read more about the stay, here.

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On November 21, 2011, SLDN filed summary judgment asserting that there are no disputes as to the material facts in the case and asked the judge to make a ruling in favor of the plaintiffs as a matter of law. The motion is based on the four legal theories outlined in the complaint filed last month: that the denial of benefits violates the constitutional guarantee of equal protection under the law, that these statutes violate principles of federalism, that they impose unconstitutional conditions on the exercise of the plaintiffs' right to marry under State law, and that they are an unconstitutional bill of attainder.

Read the press release, here.