AFL-CIO Backs Marriage Equality in DOMA Case Brief

The AFL-CIO today filed a “friend of the court" brief asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to uphold a lower court’s ruling that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The 1996 law denies federal benefits to same-sex couples.

In the brief, filed along with Change to Win (CTW) and the National Education Association (NEA), the three union groups say:

The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), by intention and design, ensures that workers with same-sex spouses earn less money, are taxed more on their wages and benefits, and have available to them fewer valuable benefits and less economic security than their counterparts with different-sex spouses.

In February, U.S. District Judge Jeffrey White ruled DOMA unconstitutional in a case filed by Karen Golinski, a federal attorney who was seeking family insurance coverage for her wife. But House and Senate Republicans and other groups filed an appeal.

The three labor organizations outline four key ways DOMA limits the rights of workers married to persons of the same sex:

  • First, DOMA prevents or significantly restricts access to spousal healthcare benefits.
  • Second, DOMA denies to same-sex couples benefits provided to other married couples when a worker suffers a workplace injury, or otherwise becomes ill or infirm.
  • Third, DOMA impinges on the ability of workers to plan for retirement by mandating a complete denial of Social Security benefits to same-sex spouses of covered workers, and precludes same-sex spouses from receiving the benefits of tax provisions intended to incentivize savings in private retirement accounts.
  • Fourth, DOMA unfairly circumscribes immigration and naturalization laws for married same-sex couples seeking to work and remain lawfully in the United States.

Click here for the full brief. Also today, more than 130 House Democrats filed a similar brief with the Court of Appeals. The case is expected to be heard in September.

The AFL-CIO has long supported equal rights for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) people. In a 2005 statement on a proposed amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would have banned same sex marriage and denied other rights to LGBT people, the AFL-CIO Executive Council said:

The AFL-CIO recognizes that families come in all shapes and sizes. As our families change, our union contracts also change. For more than a generation, unions have negotiated domestic partner benefits for the workers they represent, which provide crucial access to health care, family and medical leave and other benefits for our heterosexual families and seniors as well as lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender families.

In its 214-year history, the U.S. Constitution has been amended only 18 times to grant basic civil rights...But we never amended the Constitution to discriminate against any group of people by denying them rights.