Posted on 10 February 2011
By Mark Miller
Many employment benefits are geared to employee earnings history. But married couples often can take advantage of policies that allow lesser-earning spouses to tap the benefits of the higher-earning partner.
That option often isn’t available to LGBT couples – including those who reside in one of the five states (and District of Columbia) that currently have legalized marriage for same sex couples. That’s because the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) of 1996 defines the word “spouse” as applying only to different-sex married couples for any purpose involving interpretation of federal law.
A group of Massachusetts residents are plaintiffs in a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management argues that the federal government’s exclusion of legally-married same sex couples is a violation of the Constitution’s equal protection clause. The plaintiffs are seven married couples and three widowers affected by federal marriage discrimination. A federal court judge ruled in the plaintiffs’ favor last summer, and the case is on appeal.
The case was filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), a New England-based legal advocacy organization; the organization has filed a similar suit on behalf of legally-married same sex couples in Connecticut.