Lambda Legal's Supreme Court Brief: Discrimination Is the "Very Purpose" of DOMA

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March 1, 2013

Lambda Legal submitted a brief today urging the U.S. Supreme Court to strike down a key provision of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Section 3 of DOMA requires the federal government to discriminate against married same-sex couples and treat them as if they were not married. In today’s brief, Lambda Legal and Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) argue that discrimination is the “very purpose” of DOMA, and that it should be found unconstitutional.

Susan Sommer, Lambda Legal’s Director of Constitutional Litigation, says:

DOMA is a recipe for a violation of equal protection guaranteed by the U. S. Constitution: It targets a particularly disliked group, impacts important personal interests, and represents a one-time departure from the usual process of allocating federal rights and benefits.

DOMA is a perfect storm with multiple elements all of which call for careful judicial review. Its passage was accompanied by unambiguous and overt statements of moral disapproval of gay people, indicating its very purpose was discriminatory. It is precisely the sort of statute that should fail rational basis scrutiny.  Indeed, it’s harder to imagine a clearer example.

In the brief, Lambda Legal and GLAD argue that laws such as DOMA that discriminate based on sexual orientation should be subjected to heightened scrutiny—a more rigorous standard of constitutional review. But we also argue that DOMA does not even pass the less strict, rational basis standard. Drawing on the Supreme Court’s ruling in Romer v. Evans, Lambda Legal’s historic 1996 case, we argue that DOMA fails this less strict standard because it heaps upon married same-sex couples disadvantages that defy credible connection to any legitimate purpose. DOMA amended more than 1,000 federal laws and regulations ranging from tax policy, federal employee benefits, rights under private pension plans and conflict-of-interest rules.

Read the brief here.

Previously: What Is DOMA and Why Is It Bad

Top 10 Things You Should Know About DOMA and the U.S. Supreme Court

What You Need to Know About the DOMA Cases