Editors' Note: Guest blogger Sue Hyde is a Massachusetts resident and Director of the the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force National Conference on LGBT Equality: Creating Change.
Attorney General Martha Coakley, the top lawyer for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, sued the federal government on July 8 seeking to overturn a section of the obnoxious and hurtful Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
Lawsuits on behalf of same-sex couples seeking full marriage equality are not new. In fact, Minnesotans Jack Baker and James Michael McConnell filed the first lawsuit in 1970 that challenged discrimination they faced when they attempted to apply for a marriage license and were refused. Since that time, lawyers go boldly where legislative advocates rightfully may fear to tread.
Ms. Coakley's lawsuit, however, stands literally in a class by itself... all by itself. The DOMA challenge brought by the Commonwealth marks the first time that a state has challenged the constitutionality of a federal law that denies equality protections to same-sex couples.
The suit claims that "Congress overstepped its authority, undermining the state's efforts to recognize marriages between same-sex couples and codified an animus towards gay and lesbian people." (Emphasis mine.)
My state government has not only told the federal government to butt out of its decision to allow me and my wife to legally marry, but also has named DOMA as a hateful statutory attack on our selves and the 15,999 other couples who legally married here. Wow!
Way back in the day, I wrote an op-ed piece that claimed "We have met the government and it is not us." That was 1988 when our movement struggled mightily to move the governmental apparatus to take effective action to end the AIDS epidemic, to repeal anti-sodomy laws, to respond to the epidemic of bias-motivated crimes against LGBT people, and in short, to do any damn thing at all to recognize the myriad ways our queer lives were distorted by officially sanctioned neglect, persecution and punishment.
Fast forward through the passage of the Massachusetts Gay Rights Bill in 1989, the establishment of the Governor's Commission on Lesbian and Gay Youth in 1990, a series of court decisions that paved the way for second parent adoptions to become routine, passage of a hate crimes bill in 1997, and the famous State House battles to defend the Supreme Judicial Court's decision in Goodridge vs. The Department of Public Health, which said discrimination in marriage laws was unconstitutional. The muscular efforts of our statewide political group, MassEquality, built a super-majority in our legislature that, on June 14, 2007, rejected for the last time (please!) a proposed constitutional amendment to strip away our right to marry.
The equality super-majority is about to be tested when legislators will decide the fate of a bill to include gender identity and gender expression in our nondiscrimination and hate crimes laws. So, we are not done yet. But with Attorney General Coakley's filing of a lawsuit yesterday, we can see how much progress we have made through the nitty gritty work of winning the support of lawmakers and political leaders like Ms. Coakley.
The Commonwealth's filing, coupled with the District of Columbia's Board of Elections and Ethics recent dismissal of a proposed referendum on the D.C. marriage recognition law because it would have violated the city's Human Rights Act, sets a high standard for other states and jurisdictions. When LGBT people's lives are diminished by discrimination, prejudice and animus, the answer coming from governments should never again be silence; but rather a full-throated "Hands off our neighbors, our residents and our people."