Foley Hoag Files Groundbreaking Suit with GLAD

Files Lawsuit Challenging Denial of Certain Federal Benefits to Married Same-Sex Couples

March 3, 2009

Lawyers at Foley Hoag LLP announced the landmark filing today of the first concerted, multi-plaintiff challenge to Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).  The lawsuit was filed in Federal District Court for the District of Massachusetts with Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) and Sullivan & Worcester LLP.

The suit, Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management et al., challenges the denial of certain federal rights and protections to same-sex married couples.  Lawsuits by GLAD brought marriage equality to Massachusetts in 2004 and Connecticut in 2008, the only two states in which same-sex couples can legally marry.  Today’s suit addresses the use of Section 3 of DOMA to deny same-sex married couples and surviving spouses vital rights and benefits, including Social Security benefits, federal income tax protections, federal employees’ and retirees’ benefits, and passports issued in one’s married name.  Under Section 3 of DOMA, passed in 1996, the federal government recognizes as valid only marriages between a man and a woman.  Thus, same-sex married couples in Massachusetts are deprived of the federal benefits that other married couples receive even though Massachusetts authorizes and recognizes their marriages.

A copy of the filing can be found here.  Each of the plaintiffs is, or was until becoming a widower, legally married to a person of the same sex under Massachusetts law.  They assert that Section 3 of DOMA violates the federal constitutional guarantee of equal protection as applied to the benefits that they have been denied.  The lawsuit does not address Section 2 of DOMA, which allows states to establish policies about what marriages they will and will not respect.

“Foley Hoag’s relationship with GLAD dates back fifteen years, and we are pleased and proud to have participated in this landmark filing with GLAD,” said Claire Laporte, Partner and coordinator of the pro bono program at Foley Hoag.  “As a firm, Foley Hoag has a longstanding commitment to the protection of civil rights.  Today’s lawsuit is the latest step in the long struggle for our society to achieve equality and fairness.  We are confident that today’s lawsuit will promote equitable treatment for the thousands of gay and lesbian couples who pay taxes, contribute to their communities, and play by all the rules – but are denied the rights and benefits that other married couples receive.”

The plaintiffs are described in GLAD’s press release, which details their unsuccessful efforts to obtain a variety of federal benefits, from the one-time lump-sum Social Security death benefit to the health insurance benefit available to different-sex spouses of federal employees.  Despite the fact that gay and lesbian Massachusetts couples are free to marry in the state of Massachusetts, over 10,000 couples and their children have been denied federal benefits due to Section 3 of DOMA.

The Foley Hoag Lawyers working on the case include Claire Laporte and Vickie Henry, both partners at the firm, and associates Matthew Miller, Amy Senier, and Stacy Anderson.  Former associate Shaun Skeya also made an important contribution to the effort.

Foley Hoag’s pro bono program has been a hallmark of the firm since its representation of the plaintiffs in the 1970s lawsuit that brought desegregation to the Boston public schools.  Lawyers at the firm are encouraged to engage in pro bono work and other community activities. In a typical year, over 5% of the work of the firm is devoted to pro bono causes.

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