Last week, Speaker of the House John Boehner pledged to continue defending the federal Defense of Marriage Act in court — this time against a challenge brought by members of the U.S. armed forces who claim that the law unconstitutionally denies them access to more than 100 family benefits that are otherwise offered to all other active duty personnel and veterans. These include housing allowances, surviving spousal benefits, the ability to apply for joint duty assignments, among others. DOMA denies these benefits to our enlisted men and women, as well as veterans, because the Department of Defense grants certain family benefits on the basis of regulations that define the terms "spouse" or "marriage," terms that must be interpreted to mean opposite-sex spouses because of DOMA.
Speaker Boehner's defense of DOMA in this case demonstrates his willingness to protect a glaring inequality in how we treat many of those who have chosen to serve in our nation's armed forces.
The litigation in question, known as McMcLaughlin v. Panetta, was filed on behalf of gay troops and veterans by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network and Chadbourne and Parke; the lawsuit is now pending before the District Court of Massachusetts. The case centers largely around Chief Warrant Officer Charlie Morgan, a lesbian in the New Hampshire National Guard, who has been diagnosed with stage-four, incurable breast cancer and is seeking survivor benefits that are awarded to veterans in opposite-sex marriages for her spouse, Karen Morgan.
Should Boehner succeed in court, Morgan would be ineligible to receive the benefits that her wife has earned through her service. Perhaps before proceeding with his lawsuit, Boehner should ask himself a few simple questions: do the same-sex partners of our enlisted men and women sacrifice any less when their loved ones are deployed? Do they feel any less pain in the event that their loved ones never return home? Of course not. Why then should they be denied the ability to provide for, and protect their families in the same ways afforded to all other military families?
Boehner's decision to go-it-alone in defending DOMA also reflects a problem with setting priorities. After the Obama administration instructed Congress that it would no longer defend DOMA, on the grounds that the president considers the law to be unconstitutional, Republican leaders in congress appropriated $750,000 in legal fees to defend the law. The non-partisan Congressional Budget Office now estimates that the cost of defending DOMA may easily reach $1.5 million by the end of the year. President Obama is not alone in thinking that DOMA is unconstitutional; every federal court that has ruled on the law to date has come to the same conclusion. At a time of soaring deficits, it is disappointing that House Republicans seem willing to spend millions of dollars on defending this unconstitutional law while asking for deep cuts in education and vital programs such as Medicare and Medicaid.
Nick Rimmer is a graduate of the University of New Mexico School of Law, and serves as Associate Director of Equality New Mexico. Contact him at: firstname.lastname@example.org