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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 12, 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 28
Marriage equality suits sweep the country
Section One
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Marriage equality suits sweep the country

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

In the wake of the U.S. Supreme Court's historic ruling striking down DOMA in United States v. Windsor, lawsuits to overturn state laws barring same-sex marriage have been filed in at least six states.

The ACLU joined Lambda Legal to file suit in Illinois, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. ACLU filed on its own in North Carolina. And suits are also going forward in Michigan and Arkansas.

'The ACLU's actions are part of Out for Freedom, a nation-wide initiative by the ACLU that seeks to advance the freedom to marry through action in the courts, at the ballot box and in legislatures,' the group said in a statement.

'This effort comes on the heels of the historic U.S. Supreme Court decisions that struck down a section of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that denied federal recognition to legally married same-sex couples, and reinstated the federal trial court decision that found no rational basis to support Proposition 8, California's ban on same-sex marriage.'

'The end of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act opens a new chapter in our work to ensure same-sex couples and their families across the country are treated with dignity and respect,' said Greg Nevins, Supervising Senior Staff Attorney in Lambda Legal's Southern Regional Office based in Atlanta.

'We know that many same-sex couples and their families have waited a long time and we are excited to announce that the campaign for the freedom to marry is coming south...

'We do not want a country so divided by unfairness and discrimination. Same-sex couples are in loving, committed relationships in every region of our nation and should be treated the same way, whether they live in Maine or Virginia. This is one America.'

Meanwhile, the federal Office of Personnel Management (OPM) - itself a defendant in two suits challenging DOMA, Gill v. OPM and Golinski v. OPM - created a basis for still more lawsuits with a ruling that same-sex couples in civil unions are not entitled to the same federal benefits as married same-sex couples.

In Illinois, where the state legislature failed to act on a marriage equality bill before adjourning on May 31, ACLU and Lambda Legal filed a motion for summary judgment, meaning they are asking for a quick ruling by a federal court that the state law barring same-sex marriage is unconstitutional on its face.

The Illinois filing came in a suit for marriage equality originally filed by 25 same-sex couples in May 2012, and was accompanied by amicus briefs on behalf of numerous or-ganizations including the Mexican American Legal Defense & Education Fund (MALDEF), The Chicago Bar Association, Hispanic Lawyers Association of Illinois, and The Sargent Shriver National Center on Poverty Law, and many faith leaders from across the state.

The Pennsylvania suit asks a federal district judge to enjoin state officials from enforcing the law preventing Gay and Lesbian couples from getting married.

The plaintiffs are one widow, 10 couples, and the two teenage daughters of one of the couples, and they include four couples who were legally married in other states, but whose marriages are not recognized by the state of Pennsylvania.

The plaintiffs, including Deb and Susan Whitewood, who have been together for 22 years, said their willingness to join the lawsuit was driven both by a desire to have the same legal and financial protections afforded to opposite-sex couples and the emotional satisfaction of seeking social justice.

The Virginia suit challenges a state constitutional amendment, passed in 2006, that defines marriage as 'a union between one man and one woman...' on grounds that it violates the equal protection and due process clauses of the U.S. Constitution. The Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibits states from restricting rights granted to US citizens.

In North Carolina, the ACLU is asking to amend a suit they previously brought on behalf of same-sex couples where one of the partners is a parent, but the other partner is prohibited by state law from adopting the child as well.

In light of the Supreme Court ruling striking DOMA, the group said, they want to challenge state law against same-sex marriage - which underlies the ban on second parent adoptions.

Less than 24 hours after the Supreme Court ruled against DOMA in Windsor, a federal district judge in Michigan ruled that a suit against that state's anti-equality constitutional amendment could go forward. The case is similar to the North Carolina suit, in that the plaintiffs are adding the claim for equal marriage rights to an existing suit for adoption rights.

In Arkansas, 11 same-sex couples filed a lawsuit arguing that laws banning Gay marriage in Arkansas and refusing to recognize Gay marriages from other states are unconstitutional.

Even more marriage equality suits may be on the horizon, because of federal guidelines interpreting the Supreme Court's DOMA decision.

OPM, which manages benefits for federal employees said in a series of memos issued after the Supreme Court decision in Windsor, that same-sex couples in civil unions - as opposed to ones that are legally married in states where they can do so - 'will remain ineligible for most federal benefits programs.'

Four states continue to offer civil unions: Hawaii, Colorado, Illinois, and New Jersey. Same-sex couples in those states have all or almost all the state benefits of marriage, but none of the federal ones, and they might also have standing to sue for the right to marry and acquire federal benefits, under the equal protection and due process clauses of the federal constitution.

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