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Federal appeals panel in Boston hears arguments on Defense of Marriage Act

Posted By April 11, 2012 | 3:43 pm | Local
BOSTON (CNS) -- A federal appeals court heard arguments April 4 in two cases related not to the legality of same-sex marriage but to the tax, health and pension benefits of marriage. The cases, which are expected to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court, have drawn national attention from Catholic and other religious leaders, who say the Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 "reflects the united judgment of Congress and the president on a matter of basic public policy."

By Catholic News Service
BOSTON (CNS) — A federal appeals court heard arguments April 4 in two cases related not to the legality of same-sex marriage but to the tax, health and pension benefits of marriage.
The cases, which are expected to eventually reach the U.S. Supreme Court, have drawn national attention from Catholic and other religious leaders, who say the Defense of Marriage Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Bill Clinton in 1996 “reflects the united judgment of Congress and the president on a matter of basic public policy.”
Judge Joseph L. Tauro of the U.S. District Court in Boston ruled in 2010 that the law forces Massachusetts to discriminate against same-sex couples who are legally married under state law in order to receive federal funds and unconstitutionally violates the rights of those couples.
The Defense of Marriage Act says the federal government defines marriage as a union between one man and one woman and that no state must recognize a same-sex marriage from another state.
In February 2011, President Barack Obama instructed the Department of Justice to stop defending the law in pending court cases. Cardinal (then-Archbishop) Timothy M. Dolan of New York said at the time that the marriage law was not “unjust discrimination” but rather legislation that “merely affirms and protects the time-tested and unalterable meaning of marriage.”
“The suggestion that this definition amounts to ‘discrimination’ is grossly false and represents an affront to millions of citizens in this country,” he added.
In arguments before a three-judge panel of 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, former U.S. Solicitor General Paul D. Clement — hired by the House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to defend the law in court — said the proper constitutional test by which to judge the Defense of Marriage Act was whether there was a “rational basis” for Congress to pass it.
“Congress could rationally choose to have a uniform definition rather than have it rely upon state law” to define marriage in various ways, he said.
But Assistant Attorney General Maura Healy, arguing on behalf of Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, said the federal law requires the state “to live with two distinct and unequal forms of marriage … simply because (Congress) doesn’t like the fact that gay people are getting married.”
In the second case, the organization Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders had sued on behalf of several same-sex married couples who had been denied health, pension or tax benefits available under federal law to other married couples.
The Massachusetts Catholic Conference and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along with other Christian and Jewish religious groups, had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the case, saying that the federal law is designed “to ensure that states remain free to set their own marriage policies while also ensuring that no state may unilaterally define marriage for a sister state or for the federal government.”
The brief criticized the lower court’s “holding that morality cannot be the primary basis for legislation under rational-review basis,” saying that view was “simply incorrect.”
“The great legislative debates of the past century — from business and labor regulations, to civil rights legislation, to environmentalism, to military spending, to universal health care, etc. — centered on contested questions of morality,” it said. “The same is true of our current democratic conversation about the definition and purpose of marriage.”
The brief also dismissed the lower court’s finding that opposition to the federal law was the result of “irrational prejudice” against homosexuals.
“We believe that God calls us to love homosexual persons, even as we steadfastly defend our belief that traditional marriage is both divinely ordained and experientially best for families and society,” it said. “This considered judgment is informed by our moral reasoning, our religious convictions and our long experience counseling and ministering to adults and children.”
Among those joining in the brief were the National Association of Evangelicals, the Church of Jesus Church of Latter-day Saints, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, and the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.

 

PHOTO: Participants hold signs supporting traditional marriage in front of the Maryland State Capitol in Annapolis, Md., during a Jan. 30 rally to protest Gov. Martin J. O’Malley’s stance on same-sex marriage. O’Malley, a Catholic, is sponsoring legislation to legalize same-sex marriage. (CNS photo/Peter Lockley)