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House members challenge constitutionality of Defense of Marriage Act

Reps. Keith Ellison, Betty McCollum and Tim Walz joined 130 other members of Congress in filing a brief in a court case challenging part of the federal Defense of Marriage Act.

The members are challenging Section 3 of DOMA that denies benefits to some legally married couples in Massachusetts that others are afforded and the members say it compromises states’ rights.

The lawsuit began in 2009, when the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) filed suit on behalf of eight legally married same-sex couples and three surviving spouses after they were denied federal legal protections.

133 House members added their support for the couples’ lawsuit.

“Some [House members] voted against the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) while others voted for it; still others were not in Congress when DOMA was enacted. But all believe, today, that Section 3 of DOMA, which defines marriage for all federal purposes as ‘only a legal union between one man and one woman,’ lacks a rational relationship to any legitimate federal purpose and accordingly is unconstitutional,” the brief said.

Fourteen of the 133 House members signing the brief voted for the original law that they now view as unconstitutional. The only member of Minnesota’s congressional delegation to have voted for DOMA in 1996 is Democratic Rep. Collin Peterson, who has said he continues to support the law and voted to “reaffirm” it earlier this year.

Walz, Ellison, and McCollum have all been elected to Congress well after that vote. All three have also sponsored legislation to repeal DOMA.

The brief said, in part, that it was a response to House Speaker John Boehner’s decision to expend federal time and money on the Defense of Marriage Act.

“[The members] also wish to make clear that the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group (“BLAG”), which has intervened in this case to defend Section 3’s constitutionality, does not speak for a unanimous House on this issue.”

The brief concluded that DOMA was a federal overreach into the individual states’ rights to determine marriage.

“Prior to DOMA, Congress achieved its legitimate federal interests in promoting the welfare of American families by working cooperatively with the states and respecting state marriage determinations. Congress’s radical departure from that federalist practice was a mistake; because Section 3 violates the Fifth Amendment’s equal protection guarantee, it is also unconstitutional. The decision below should be affirmed.”

The case is being heard in the First Circuit’s U.S. Court of Appeals.

Here’s the full list of members who signed the brief:

Nancy Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, James E. Clyburn, Jerrold Nadler, John Conyers, Jr., Barney Frank, Tammy Baldwin, Jared Polis, David N. Cicilline, Gary L. Ackerman, Robert E. Andrews, Karen Bass, Xavier Becerra, Shelley Berkley, Howard L. Berman, Timothy H. Bishop, Earl Blumenauer, Robert A. Brady, Bruce L. Braley, Lois Capps, Michael E. Capuano, André Carson, Judy Chu, Hansen Clarke, Yvette D. Clarke, Wm. Lacy Clay, Emanuel Cleaver, Steve Cohen, Gerald E. Connolly, Joe Courtney, Joseph Crowley, Danny K. Davis, Susan A. Davis, Diana DeGette, Rosa L. DeLauro, Theodore E. Deutch, Lloyd Doggett, Michael F. Doyle, Donna F. Edwards, Keith Ellison, Eliot L. Engel, Anna G. Eshoo, Sam Farr, Chaka Fattah, Bob Filner, Marcia L. Fudge, John Garamendi, Charles A. Gonzalez, Raúl M. Grijalva, Luis V. Gutierrez, Janice Hahn, Colleen W. Hanabusa, Alcee L. Hastings, Martin Heinrich, Brian Higgins, James A. Himes, Maurice D. Hinchey, Mazie K. Hirono, Kathy Hochul, Rush D. Holt, Michael M. Honda, Jay Inslee, Steve Israel, Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Sheila Jackson Lee, Eddie Bernice Johnson, Henry C. “Hank” Johnson, Jr., William R. Keating, Dennis J. Kucinich, John B. Larson, Barbara Lee, Sander M. Levin, John Lewis, Zoe Lofgren, Nita M. Lowey, Carolyn B. Maloney, Edward J. Markey, Doris O. Matsui, Carolyn McCarthy, Betty McCollum, Jim McDermott, James P. McGovern, Jerry McNerney, Gregory W. Meeks, Brad Miller, George Miller, Gwen Moore, James P. Moran, Christopher S. Murphy, Grace F. Napolitano, Richard E. Neal, Eleanor Holmes Norton, John W. Olver, William L. Owens, Frank Pallone, Jr., Ed Pastor, Donald M. Payne, Gary C. Peters, Chellie Pingree, David E. Price, Mike Quigley, Charles B. Rangel, Laura Richardson, Steven R. Rothman, Lucille Roybal-Allard, Bobby L. Rush, Tim Ryan, Linda T. Sánchez, Loretta Sanchez, John P. Sarbanes, Janice D. Schakowsky, Adam B. Schiff, Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, José E. Serrano, Brad Sherman, Louise McIntosh Slaughter, Adam Smith, Jackie Speier, Fortney Pete Stark, Mike Thompson, John F. Tierney, Paul Tonko, Edolphus Towns, Niki Tsongas, Chris Van Hollen, Nydia M. Velázquez, Timothy J. Walz, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Maxine Waters, Henry A. Waxman, Peter Welch, Lynn C. Woolsey, John A. Yarmuth.

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