Court Denies Request to Speed Up Appeals Process for Defense of Marriage Act
By Jeffrey Scott
May 31, 2012
The appeals process for the Defense of Marriage Act will take place in September, as planned, after a federal appeals court denied a request to speed up the judicial process last week.
The act, known as DOMA, prohibits same-sex spouses of federal employees from receiving federal health care plans typically awarded to heterosexual couples.
The case, originated in California, has been pending since February. It began when a federal lawyer tried to place her partner on the employee health insurance plan but was denied because of DOMA. She then filed a lawsuit and won based on a ruling that declared DOMA unconstitutional. The case is now awaiting an appeal in a higher court.
“Issues (surrounding gay rights) have been percolating for decades,” said Jennifer Pizer, legal director of the Williams Institute at the UCLA School of Law, which advances research in sexual orientation law and public policy. She added that the controversy surrounding DOMA stems from differing interpretations of the Equal Protection Clause, which guarantees individuals the right to request legal review.
The Obama administration has been reportedly unsupportive of DOMA. The administration announced last year it would not defend DOMA in the courts.
The executive branch does not typically ask to speed up legal review of cases, Pizer said. The Obama admistration may be pushing to accelerate the case as it goes through appeals because cases involving DOMA have been at a stalemate in the federal court system for many years, Pizer said.
Because the request was denied, a judicial review of DOMA will take place before the customary three-panel judge in September. The panel could either side with the lower court and rule that DOMA is unconstitutional, or it could reverse the decision. If DOMA is ruled unconstitutional, same-sex couples will be eligible for the same federal benefits as heterosexual couples. However, if DOMA is upheld, same-sex partners would not be entitled to these benefits, as is currently the case.
Some agree with the court’s denial of the request, arguing that legal procedures exist for a reason.
Lydia Mazuryk, fourth-year history student who supports DOMA, said she agrees with the court’s decision to continue the appeals process as planned.
“(Skipping a step) could have set a precedence that I am not sure that we want to be setting,” she said.
For some students this rejection of the Obama administration’s request for a faster review process is disheartening.
Marcus McRae, director of Queer Alliance, said he would have liked for the administration’s request to go through. As a fourth-year linguistics and anthropology and political science student, he added that he has seen differing political climates regarding lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender issues.
“Often we grant rights slowly. Expediency is the most important thing to me,” McRae said.