By: Jacob Combs
Marriage Equality Cases
Darby/Lazaro: Two court cases filed in 2012 by Lambda Legal (Darby v. Orr) and the ACLU of Illinois (Lazaro v. Orr) which were later combined into one case challenging Illinois’s marriage laws, which allow same-sex couples to enter into civil unions but not to marry. Illinois’s lack of marriage equality, the plaintiffs argue, violates gays and lesbians’ equal protection and due process rights under the state constitution.
DeBoer v. Snyder: An adoption lawsuit brought in 2012 on behalf of a Michigan lesbian couple that is later expanded into a marriage equality suit arguing that Michigan’s marriage amendment, which limits marriage to opposite-sex couples, violates gay and lesbian Michiganders’ equal protection and due process laws under the U.S. Constitution.
Jackson v. Abercrombie: A lawsuit filed in 2011 by a Honolulu lesbian couple in federal court arguing that Hawaii’s marriage laws, which provide same-sex couples the opportunity to enter into civil unions but forbid them from marrying, violates the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment.
Prop 8: A lawsuit filed in 2009 by the American Foundation for Equal Rights (AFER) in California district court arguing that Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment banning marriage equality that passed by a popular vote during the 2008 election, violates the due process and equal protection rights provided by the U.S. Constitution’s Fourteenth Amendment. The suit is filed on behalf of two gay couples in California, one from Burbank and one from Alameda, who were denied marriage licenses due to their sexual orientation. First known as Perry v. Schwarzenegger, the case was later called Perry v. Brown and Hollingsworth v. Perry at the Supreme Court level.
Sevcik v. Sandoval: A lawsuit filed in 2012 by Lambda Legal in Nevada district court challenging the state’s marriage laws, which restrict marriage to opposite-sex couples while only allowing same-sex couples to enter into domestic partnerships. Nevada’s laws, the suit contends, constitute an equal protection violation under the U.S. Constitution.
Gill/Massachusetts: Two court cases filed in 2009 by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (Gill v. Office of Personnel Management) and the attorney general of Massachusetts (Massachusetts v. Dept. of Health and Human Services) challenging the constitutionality of Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). DOMA, the suits argue, infringes upon Massachusetts’s marriage law, an area of the law that has traditionally been the exclusive province of the states, and violates the due process rights guaranteed to same-sex couples in the U.S. Constitution’s Fifth Amendment. The cases are later combined into one lawsuit.
Golinski v. Office of Personnel Management (OPM): A lawsuit filed by Lambda Legal in 2010 challenging DOMA on behalf of Karen Golinski, a lesbian employee of the California-based Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, who received approval from her employer to enroll her wife on her health insurance plan but was blocked from doing so by the federal government. DOMA, the lawsuit argues, unconstitutionally discriminates on the basis of Golinski’s sexual orientation.
Pedersen v. OPM: A lawsuit filed in 2010 by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in Connecticut district court on behalf of seven citizens of Connecticut, Vermont and New Hampshire challenging the constitutionality of DOMA’s Section 3. The suit’s plaintiffs are federal employees who, because of their sexual orientation, have been denied services that are provided to opposite-sex couples.
Windsor v. U.S.: A lawsuit filed in 2010 by the ACLU in a New York district court challenging the constitutionality of DOMA on behalf of Edie Windsor, an octogenarian forced to pay more than $363,000 in estate tax after the death of her wife Thea Spyer, whom she wed in Canada in 2007. DOMA, the ACLU suit argues, unconstitutionally excludes same-sex couples from the rights and responsibilities of marriage that opposite-sex couples enjoy.
Dragovich v. Department of Treasury: A lawsuit filed in 2010 in a Northern California district court against the U.S. Treasury Department, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS). The named plaintiffs, represented by the Legal Aid Society—Employment Law Center, are five California state employees and their partners who have been denied access to the CalPERS program, which allows long-term care insurance for public employees and their families. The case is considered a class action suit by the court. In their complaint, the plaintiffs argue that both DOMA and the decision by CalPERS to exclude same-sex couples from their benefits program violate those couples’ equal protection rights.
Cooper-Harris v. U.S.: An action filed in 2012 by the Southern Poverty Law Center in a central California district court on behalf of Tracey Cooper-Harris, a 12-year veteran of the U.S. Army who was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2010 and then denied partnership benefits for her spouse by the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs even though the two women are legally married under California law. Cooper-Harris’s suit challenges both the constitutionality of the benefits decision made by Veterans Affairs and the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act itself.
Aranas v. Napolitano: A lawsuit filed in 2012 in a central California district court by the Center for Human Rights on Constitutional Law on behalf of a binational couple and their adult son challenging DOMA as it pertains to immigration. Jane DeLeon, who immigrated from the Philippines to the U.S. in 1989, married her partner of 20 years, Irma Rodriguez, a U.S. citizen, in 2008. DeLeon’s son, whom DeLeon gave birth to during a previous marriage to a man in the Philippines, came to the U.S. when he was nine, and his legal status depends on his mother’s.
Blesch v. Holder: A suit filed in 2012 in a New York district court by Immigration Equality on behalf of five married, binational couples challenging the constitutionality of DOMA. For all five couples, the U.S.-citizen spouse sponsored the non-citizen spouse to obtain a green card, but the applications were denied due to DOMA.
Bishop v. U.S. (formerly Bishop v. Oklahoma): A case filed in 2009 in a Tulsa, Oklahoma district court by two lesbian couples challenging both DOMA and Oklahoma’s ban on marriage equality. One of the couples married in both California and Canada, and also have a civil union from Vermont, while the other couple had sought to marry but was blocked from doing so by an Oklahoma constitutional amendment that prohibits same-sex couples from marrying.
Cozen O’Connor v. Tobits: A lawsuit filed in 2011 in an eastern Pennsylvania district court by the law firm Cozen O’Connor regarding a dispute concerning the estate of one of the firm’s employees, Sarah Ellyn Farley, between her wife, Jennifer Tobits, and her parents, David and Joan Farley. Tobits and Farley wed in Toronto in 2006 before Farley’s death in 2010, but Farley’s parents, who did not accept her partnership with Tobits, filed a suit in Illinois court to take over her estate. David and Joan Farley also told Cozen O’Connor that they should receive Farley’s benefits from the firm’s profit-sharing plan because her marriage to Tobits is not recognized under federal law due to DOMA. In September 2012, the Illinois court ruled that Tobits is the sole heir to Farley’s estate. Tobits is represented by the National Center for Lesbian Rights.
Cardona v. Shinseki: A suit filed in 2012 by Yale Law School’s Veterans Legal Services Clinic on behalf of Carmen Cardona, a disabled Navy veteran, challenging a decision by the Department of Veterans Affairs to deny Cardona dependency benefits for her wife, whom she married in Connecticut, because of DOMA.
McLaughlin v. Panetta: A lawsuit filed in 2011 by the Servicemembers Legal Defense Network (SLDN, now known as Outserve-SLDN) on behalf of a group of current and former members of the U.S. military who were denied benefits for their lawfully wedded same-sex spouses because of DOMA. In addition to challenging DOMA, the case, filed in Massachusetts district court, also challenges three sections of the U.S. Code which prevent the military from providing same-sex couples the same benefits as opposite-sex couples.
In re Balas and Morales: A case filed in 2011 in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California by a married same-sex couple challenging DOMA on the grounds that it prohibits them from being considered married for the purposes of bankruptcy proceedings. In a decision later that year signed by 20 of the court’s judges (a rare occurrence), the court found that DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.
Lui v. Holder: A lawsuit filed in 2011 by the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional Law on behalf of a married, binational same-sex couple in California whose green card application was denied because of DOMA.
Revelis v. Napolitano: A suit filed in 2011 in a northern Illinois district court by a binational couple, married under Iowa law, who were prevented from obtaining a permanent residence visa for the non-U.S. citizen spouse because of DOMA.
Roe v. Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield: A class-action lawsuit filed in New York district court in 2012 by a lesbian employee of a Catholic hospital who was denied spousal health benefits for her wife by her employer. The suit challenges both DOMA itself as well as the decision by the hospital, St. Joseph’s Medical Center, and its benefits administrator, Empire Blue Cross & Blue Shield, to deny benefits to same-sex couples.
In re Levenson: A complaint filed in the Office of the Federal Public Defender for the Central District of California in 2009 by Brad Levenson, a California public defender, who sought to have his employment benefits extended to his husband but was denied because of DOMA. As an employee of the judiciary, Levenson is barred by federal law from suing his employer in federal court, and had to file for an employment dispute resolution tribunal instead.