Fighting back

By DEIRDRE FULTON  |  June 4, 2010

Individual attacks
GLAD lawyer Mary Bonauto, the Portland, Maine, resident who successfully argued the 2003 Goodridgev. Department of Public Health case that eventually led to marriage equality for Massachusetts residents, describes Gill v. the Office of Personnel Management as "a full-on attack on DOMA section three" — the marriage-definition section, and therefore the one that regulates access to federal benefits for legally married same-sex couples. She clarifies that GLAD's case has nothing to do with who can marry — in Massachusetts, that's well-established fact.

"The only question in our case is how the federal government is treating people who are already married," she said on the phone several weeks after giving her oral argument before Judge Joseph Tauro at the Moakley Courthouse in Boston. (The Coakley case is also being heard by Judge Tauro, in the same courthouse.)

Jonathan Knight and Marlin Nabors are two of those people. The young gay couple — who live in Boston's Hyde Park neighborhood with their Corgi, Peppa — married more than three years ago, and they are plaintiffs in the Gill case. Because they can't file their income taxes jointly, as other married couples can and do, they claim that they've paid about $3000 extra to the US government since 2006.

"I don't think I even had a sense of how the government extends privilege to married couples," says Nabors. Coughing up extra money puts the couple on shakier financial footing, he adds. "It was shocking that we, as a new married couple, aren't able to plan for our future the way that other married couples are."

And while Nabors realizes that, should the case move up through the courts and to the highest level of the judiciary, he and Knight could be a part of history, he's more interested in how his family will be affected.

"We didn't lend our voices to this suit because we were interested in" wielding national influence, he says. "We were interested in being treated fairly. We are overpaying the government when similarly situated couples aren't overpaying the government, and there's an inherent unfairness in that. . . . We're willing to pay our fair share — as long as we know that our marriage is being treated equally by the government."

Other Gill plaintiffs — all Massachusetts residents — include federal employees who can't add their spouses to their health-insurance plans, widowers who are denied Social Security benefits, and a state trooper whose wife wouldn't get federal surviving-spouse benefits if she died in the line of duty.

GLAD argues that, for more than 200 years, marital status was governed by the state, and that DOMA represents an intrusion into state law. That intrusion, in turn, violates equal-protection laws for gay and lesbian couples.

"What DOMA does is negate their marital status — a core part of their identity," Bonauto told the judge.

"In passing DOMA," notes the GLAD complaint, "Congress took the unprecedented step of preemptively nullifying a class of marriages that it expected states would begin to license at some point in the future, that is, marriages of same-sex couples. It withdrew from these marriages, but not from others, all federal financial and other responsibilities and protections.

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