USA – Major gay marriage cases in federal court and where they stand

Posted on 28 May 2012


Battles over same-sex marriage have been raging in the federal courts for several years. Two general areas of litigation could reach the US Supreme Court within a year. One is a challenge toCalifornia’s ban on same-sex marriages under Proposition 8. The other seeks to invalidate the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which limits the provision of 1,100 federal benefits to married heterosexual couples. Here is a list of key cases and where they stand.

1. The challenge to Prop. 8

A federal judge and a federal appeals court have invalidated California’s statewide referendum that banned same-sex marriages.

Supporters of the referendum and ban are asking the full Ninth US Circuit Court of Appealsto rehear the case, Perry v. Brown (Case No.11-16577). Their request is pending, and an announcement could come at any time.

If the Ninth Circuit turns them down, an appeal directly to the US Supreme Court is expected.

2. The challenge to DOMA: Federal appeals court in Boston

At the First US Circuit Court of Appeals inBoston, a three-judge panel heard oral argument in April in three consolidated cases, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management (OPM)(10-2207), Massachusetts v. US Department of HHS (10-2204), and Hara v. OPM (10-2214).

The appeals court is examining a July 2010 ruling by a federal judge in Boston declaring DOMA unconstitutional. The case is expected to be appealed to the US Supreme Court.

3. The challenge to DOMA: Federal appeals court in San Francisco

At the Ninth US Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, a three-judge panel is set to hear aCalifornia-based challenge to DOMA. The case, Karen Golinski v. USOPM, stems from a federal judge’s ruling in February that DOMA is unconstitutional. The appeals court case is docketed as 12-15388 and 12-15409. Briefing is set for this summer.

The case is expected to be appealed to the US Supreme Court.

4. Other challenges to DOMA in federal court

• Dragovich v. US Department of Treasury(10cv1564): In a challenge in Oakland, Calif., involving federal tax benefits offered for medical insurance for opposite-sex spouses, but not same-sex spouses, US District Judge Claudia Wilken struck down DOMA on May 25, saying it was based on “moral condemnation” of same-sex couples and violated constitutional standards in denying benefits to same-sex couples married under California law.

• McLaughlin v. Panetta (11cv11905) is a class action suit in federal court in Boston challenging DOMA on behalf of US military service members and their same-sex spouses who are denied the same federal benefits awarded to opposite-sex spouses.

• Joanne Pedersen v. OPM (10cv1750) is a DOMA challenge before a federal judge in New Haven, Conn. Ms. Pedersen is seeking access to the same benefits with her same-sex spouse as are offered to opposite-sex married spouses.

• Edith Windsor v. US (10cv8435) is a DOMA case before a federal judge in Manhattan. The suit challenges an Internal Revenue Service requirement that Ms. Windsor pay federal inheritance tax on her same-sex spouse’s estate. Heterosexual married couples at the same income level are not subject to the estate tax under current law.