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|DOJ: Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional|
|by Ryan Watkins|
|July 08, 2011 00:00|
In a federal court brief filed July 1, the Department of Justice cited the Atlanta Police Department’s raid on the Atlanta Eagle, a gay bar, as evidence of ongoing discrimination based on sexual orientation.
The Department of Justice filed the brief in the legal case involving federal employee Karen Golinski. The brief argues that the federal court should not dismiss her claim that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. Golinski is suing the government for equal access to health benefits for her wife.
The brief, filed on behalf of the Office of Personnel Management and other defendants in the case, begins by saying “Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, 1 U.S.C. Section 7 (‘DOMA’), unconstitutionally discriminates.”
Earlier this year, Attorney General Eric Holder announced that the DOJ would no longer defend DOMA in court.
“The president and I have concluded that classifications based on sexual orientation warrant heightened scrutiny and that, as applied to same-sex couples legally married under state law, Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional,” Holder wrote in a letter to House Speaker John Boehner on Feb. 23.
The DOJ brief filed July 1 includes an extensive discussion of how the government, from the local to the federal level, has discriminated against gay people — including the September 2009 Atlanta Eagle raid as an example.
In December 2010, the city of Atlanta agreed to a $1.025 million settlement with numerous plaintiffs who sued the city in federal court alleging their constitutional rights were violated during the raid. The case is known as Calhoun vs. Pennington.
“State and local police also relied on laws prohibiting lewdness, vagrancy, and disorderly conduct to harass gays and lesbians, often when gay and lesbian people congregated in public,” the DOJ brief states, citing legal cases and studies dated from 1964 to 1982.
“Similar practices persist to this day,” it continues, citing the Eagle case, Calhoun v. Pennington.
The brief also admits that the Defense of Marriage Act was prompted by anti-gay bias.
Lambda Legal Staff Attorney Tara Borelli, who represents Golinski, called the argument “an historic shift with enormous significance.”
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