Massachusetts Takes on Feds over Same-Sex Marriage
Massachusetts was the first state to legalize same-sex marriage back in 2003. This week in Boston, Massachusetts became the first state to file suit against the U.S. government over the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). The DOMA was established in 1996 and forbids federal benefits for legally married gay and lesbian couples. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts lawsuit is challenging one specific part of the DOMA that establishes the federal definition of marriage as limited to a union between one man and one woman.
The Commonwealth’s lawsuit claims that the DOMA cuts off essential rights and protections to gay and lesbian married couples, and that the Act conflicts with state sovereignty over Massachusetts’ legal definition of marriage. The suit alleges the DOMA limitation constitutes an overreaching and discriminatory law because it denies married same-sex couples the federal protections and programs (income-tax credits, employment and retirement benefits, health insurance coverage) that married straight couples currently enjoy.
At tax time every year, same-sex couples must file two sets of taxes, once as a couple for the state, and again as individuals for the federal government. Same-sex couples that own a home or property together are also not exempt from inheritance taxes, and if one partner dies, the other can be subject to a tax of up to 50%. In contrast, surviving members of straight marriages are not subject to inheritance taxes on jointly-owned property.
The Massachusetts lawsuit forces the Federal government to either accept same-sex marriage or deny state’s rights to set policy. It is shaping up to be an interesting battle as the number one federal legislator, President Obama, has recently gone on record as supporting the repeal of the DOM Act nationwide. Stay tuned for future developments in the case.