In Massachusetts v.
United States Department of Heath and Human Services, the U. S.
Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has upheld a district court
decision declaring Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act
Section 3 of DOMA, defines
"marriage" for federal law purposes as "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."
Challenging Section 3 of DOMA,
the state of Massachusetts argued that Congress cannot "undercut
the choices made by same-sex couples and by individual states,"
by limiting federal benefits for same-sex couples, because this
action is not a supported by a permissible federal interest.
The First Circuit
agreed. However it restricted its decision to Section 3 of DOMA
which defines marriage when applying federal laws, and did not rule
on Section 2 of DOMA, which gives individual states the right to
recognize, or not recognize, same-sex marriages of other
states. Further, the First Circuit delayed the application of
its decision, since a review of its decision by the Supreme Court is
If this First Circuit
decision is upheld on review, or the Supreme Court refuses the case,
then same-sex couples in states that recognize such marriages could
obtain marriage-based federal rights and benefits, including rights
to COBRA continuation; HIPAA Special Enrollments; and cafeteria plan
pre-tax contributions and status change events. Retirement plan
rights would include ERISA's spousal survivor benefits. Also
same-sex spouses would be entitled to certain Social Security
benefits. In the absence of a Supreme Court ruling, however, it
is possible that this ruling would only apply to states within the
First Circuit (Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode
Section 2 of DOMA is also declared unconstitutional, the conflict
between state and federal law could become problematic. For
example, if same sex married couples move to states that do not
recognize same sex marriages, they might not be entitled to the same
entitlements and benefits, since, under their new state's laws, they
are not married and would not be "spouses" as defined by
the new state.
Of course, we will keep
watching this issue and provide updates as needed.