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District Court Grants Federal Marriage Benefits to Same-Sex Spouses

A district court judge in Massachusetts has held that same-sex spouses and surviving spouses are entitled to federal marriage benefits, including federal employee health benefits, Social Security survivor benefits, and joint tax returns. Gill & Letorneau v Office of Personnel Management (D Mass, July 8, 2010, Civil Action No. 09–10309–JLT) 2010 US Dist Lexis 67874. 

According to the decision, the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) (1 USC §7), which limits the definition of “marriage” to a legal union between a man and a woman, violates core principles of equal protection embodied in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. As authority, the court cited a Ninth Circuit decision that the same-sex spouse of a California federal public defender was entitled to federal employee benefits. In re Levenson (9th Cir 2009) 560 F3d 1145.

In a separate decision, the district court held that DOMA violated the Tenth Amendment by intruding on state sovereignty. Commonwealth of Massachusetts v U.S. Dep’t of Health & Human Servs. (D Mass, July 8, 2010, Civil Action No. 1: 09–11156–JLT) 2010 US Dist Lexis 67927.

The Massachusetts district court decision is binding authority only in the First Circuit, and then only if the decision is affirmed by the court of appeals. If it is upheld by the First Circuit, it may then be followed in the Ninth Circuit pending possible review by the U.S. Supreme Court. The decision will be discussed in the August 2010 issue of the CEB Estate Planning & California Probate Reporter.

On legal issues related to same-sex marriage, check out CEB’s California Domestic Partnerships, chap 4A (Cal CEB 2005), which is updated annually.

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