by Shaun Knittel -
SGN Staff Writer
A lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) entered federal court this week.
Mary Bonauto, who's made a name for herself as lead lawyer in same-sex marriage court cases in Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut, is heading up the team challenging DOMA in a Boston federal courthouse.
DOMA, passed by Congress and signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman. DOMA essentially overrides state laws and court orders in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, New Hampshire, and Vermont, where Gay marriage is legal.
The Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) brought the lawsuit against the federal government in March 2009. Bonauto has been the civil rights project director at GLAD since 1990.
Bonauto and the 19 plaintiffs she represents are targeting Section 3 of the law, which disqualifies Gay and Lesbian couples from receiving federal protections and benefits that are available to heterosexual married couples - shared Social Security, disability, and tax benefits, to name a few.
Nancy Gill and Marcelle Letourneau of Bridgewater, Massachusetts are the lead plaintiffs in the lawsuit. Gill, a Postal Service worker, tried unsuccessfully to add her wife to a family health insurance plan after they were married in 2004.
"They are paying taxes, Social Security, doing all the things the government asks of them, and yet the federal government treats them as though they are unmarried," Bonauto said.
No matter which side wins this round, Bonauto says the case will likely be appealed to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals, and then to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Bonauto, 48, lives in Portland, Maine, with her partner of 22 years, Jennifer Wriggins, a professor at the University of Maine School of Law. They have twin daughters. The couple wed in Massachusetts, but their marriage is void in Maine - thanks to DOMA.
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