Pedersen v. Office of Pers. Mgmt.

Decision Date31 July 2012
Docket NumberCIVIL ACTION NO. 3:10-cv-1750 (VLB)
CourtUnited States District Courts. 2nd Circuit. United States District Court (Connecticut)

JOANNE PEDERSEN, et al., Plaintiffs,
OF REPRESENTATIVES , Intervenor-Defendant.

CIVIL ACTION NO. 3:10-cv-1750 (VLB)


Date: July 31, 2012

DISMISS [Dkt. #80]

Plaintiffs, homosexual individuals legally married to individuals of the same sex under the laws of the States of Connecticut, Vermont, and New Hampshire, bring this suit challenging Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, Pub. L. No. 104-199, 110 Stat. 2419 (1996), codified at, 1 U.S.C. §7, ("DOMA"), as a violation of the Fifth Amendment's guarantee of Equal Protection. Plaintiffs' Complaint requests declaratory and injunctive relief, seeking a judgment declaring Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutional and void and an order permanently enjoining the federal government from administering and enforcing DOMA's definition of "marriage" and "spouse" to exclude homosexual couples legally married under state law from receiving recognition and benefits under the

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plethora of federal laws which rely on DOMA's definitions. Currently pending before the Court is a Motion for Summary Judgment [Dkt. #60] filed by the Plaintiffs asserting that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law, along with a Motion to Dismiss [Dkt. #80] filed by the Intervenor-Defendants, the Bipartisan Legal Advisor Group of the United States House of Representatives, ("BLAG") pursuant to Fed. R. Civ. P. 12(b)(6) for failure to state a claim. As both motions seek ultimate resolution of this matter, the Court will consider and review the motions simultaneously, addressing the fundamental question of whether or not Section 3 of DOMA can withstand the applicable level of constitutional scrutiny.

I. Factual Background

A. History of DOMA

DOMA was enacted on September 21, 1996 and signed into law by President Clinton after passing both houses of Congress with large majorities. Section 3 of DOMA, the provision which is the subject of the Plaintiffs' constitutional challenge, codifies the following definition of the terms "marriage" and "spouse" as a matter of federal law:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word "spouse" refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.

1 U.S.C. §7. As expressly stated in the House Judiciary Committee Report on DOMA, DOMA was drafted as "a response to a very particular development in the

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State of Hawaii," where the "orchestrated legal assault being waged against traditional heterosexual marriage by gay rights groups and their lawyers" was poised to achieve "its greatest breakthrough." H.R. Rep. No. 104-664, at 2-4 (1996), reprinted in 1996 U.S.C.C.A.N. 2905-23 (hereinafter the "House Report" or "Report").

The "breakthrough" alluded to in the Report was the Hawaii Supreme Court's ruling in Baehr v. Lewin, 74 Haw. 530, 852 P.2d 44 (1993), which allowed for the possibility that a Hawaii Revised Statute, Haw. Rev. Stat. §572-1 (1985), which set forth the "[r]equisites of valid marriage contract" and limited state-sanctioned marriages to relationships "between a man and a woman" would be struck down as unconstitutional in violation of the Equal Protection clause of the Hawaii Constitution. The Hawaii Supreme Court held that "on its face and [. . . ] as applied, HRS §572-1 denies same-sex couples access to the marital status and its concomitant rights and benefits." Baehr, 74 Haw. at 564. The Baehr Court further recognized "sex" as a suspect category for purposes of Equal Protection analysis under the Equal Protection Clause of the Hawaii Constitution, mandating satisfaction of strict scrutiny analysis, the most rigorous form of constitutional inquiry, in order to withstand challenge to its constitutionality under the Hawaii Constitution. Id. at 580. Concerned by this apparent willingness by judges in Hawaii "to foist the newly-coined institution of homosexual 'marriage' upon an unwilling Hawaiian public," and the "possibility that other States could, through the protracted and complex process of litigation, be forced to follow suit," Congress, through DOMA, endeavored to enact a federal definition of marriage,

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ensuring that for purposes of federal regulations and laws, marital benefits would be conferred only upon heterosexual married couples. House Report at 6.

The impact of DOMA's definition of marriage is vast, estimated to affect at least 1,138 federal laws and regulations1 and to deprive an estimated 100,000 legally married same-sex couples of the benefits afforded to married couples under such federal laws and regulations.2 Congress was cognizant of DOMA's expansive scope, noting that the terms "marriage" and "spouse" appear hundreds of times in the spectrum of federal laws and regulations. See House Report at 10. Nevertheless, "the relevant committees did not engage in a meaningful examination of the scope or effect of the law." Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, 699 F.Supp.2d 374, 379 (D. Mass 2010). "Despite its ramifying application throughout the U.S. Code, only one day of hearings was held on DOMA." Massachusetts v. United States Dep't of Health and Human Services, 682 F.3d 1, 13 (1st Cir. 2012). During this brief hearing, "Congress did not hear testimony from agency heads regarding how DOMA would affect federal programs. Nor was there testimony from historians, economists, or specialists in family or child welfare." Gill, 699 F.Supp.2d at 379.

Though the Plaintiffs in the current case have been denied benefits under only five federal statutes and regulatory schemes, the Court recognizes that this list represents merely a brief sampling of the myriad federal laws and regulations impacted by DOMA and the Court finds the Plaintiffs' circumstances to be

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illustrative of the broad breadth of DOMA's reach. Specifically, Plaintiffs' marital statuses were denied recognition under the Family and Medical Leave Act ("FMLA"), the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program ("FEHB"), the Internal Revenue Code, the Social Security Act's "One-Time-Lump-Sum Death Benefit," the Qualified Preretirement Survivor Annuity ("QPSA"), and the New Hampshire Retirement System's contribution to Medicare Insurance.

"The FEHB is a comprehensive program of health insurance for federal civilian employees, annuitants, former spouses of employees and annuitants, and their family members." See Gill, 699 F.Supp.2d at 380 (citing 5 U.S.C. §8901 et seq.). The FEHB was created by the Federal Employees Health Benefits Act, "which established (1) the eligibility requirements for enrollment, (2) the types of plans and benefits to be provided, and (3) the qualifications that private insurance carriers must meet in order to offer coverage under the program." Id. The statutory purpose of the FEHB is to "protect federal employees against the high and unpredictable costs of medical care and to assure that federal employee health benefits are equivalent to those available in the private sector so that the federal government can compete in the recruitment and retention of competent personnel." Nat'l Foundation of Fed. Employees v. Devine, 679 F.2d 907, 913 n.9 (D.D.C. 1981) (citing S.Rep.No.468, 86th Cong., 1st Sess. 1-2 (1959); H.R.Rep.No. 957, 86th Cong., 1st Sess. 1-2 (1959)). The FEHB is administered by the Office of Personnel Management ("OPM"), which prescribes the regulations governing enrollment eligibility and dates of coverage provided to "employees, annuitants, members of their families, and former spouses." Id. (citing 5 U.S.C. §8913).

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Under these regulations, those eligible for coverage may elect to enroll for individual coverage, or for both individual and family coverage. Id. (citing 5 U.S.C. §§ 8905, 8906). Coverage for family members under the FEHB is limited to "the spouse of an employee or annuitant [or] an unmarried dependent child under 22 years of age." Id. (citing 5 U.S.C. §8901(5).

The FMLA was enacted to further public policy, specifically "to balance the demands of the workplace with the needs of families" by "entitl[ing] employees to take reasonable leave for medical reasons, for the birth or adoption of a child, and for the care of a child, spouse, or parent who has a serious health condition." 29 U.S.C. §2601(b)(1), (2).3 To accomplish these goals, the FMLA entitles eligible employees to take up to twelve work-weeks of unpaid leave during any twelve-month period. 29 U.S.C. §2612(a)(1). The regulations promulgated by the Department of Labor to implement the FMLA define the term "spouse" for purposes of the FMLA as "a husband or wife as defined or recognized under State law for purposes of marriage in the State where the employee resides, including common law marriage in States where it is recognized." 29 U.S.C.

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§2654; 29 C.F.R. 825.122. The definition of "spouse" in Section 3 of DOMA,...

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