A federal judge in Connecticut has denied a request from the House Republican-controlled Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group to halt proceedings in a challenge to the Defense of Marriage Act.
Judge Vanessa Bryant of the U.S. District Court for the District of Connecticut issued her order Wednesday in the case, Pedersen v. Office of Personnel Management. BLAG filed a motion to stay last month, arguing that the same issues were under consideration in Windsor v. United States, a case now on appeal in the Second Circuit. Both cases challenge section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which prohibits the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages. Last month a federal judge in New York ruled DOMA unconstitutional in the Windsor case.
According to Prop 8 Trial Tracker, which first reported on the order, Judge Bryant wrote that BLAG “failed to sustain its burden to establish the need for a stay” under four factors laid out by the Supreme Court, including “(1) whether the stay applicant has made a strong showing that he is likely to succeed on the merits; (2) whether the applicant will be irreparably injured absent a stay; (3) whether the issuance of the stay will substantially injure the other parties interested in the proceeding; and (4) where the public interest lies.”
Judge Bryant, a George W. Bush appointee, rejected BLAG’s assertion that the Pedersen and Windsor cases are the same, where she noted that in the latter, the standing of the sole plaintiff, Edith Windsor, has been challenged by BLAG, and therefore the Second Circuit could limit its analysis to that question, which would not dispose of the issues under consideration in Pedersen. The judge also wrote that a stay “would not conserve judicial economy” because the district court was already in the process of drafting a decision, and she said that the plaintiffs would be harmed by a stay at this point. Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which brought the Pedersen case on behalf of six married couples and a widower being denied federal benefits, made that point when it said it would oppose the motion to stay.
“Our plaintiffs are being denied access to vital federal programs under DOMA, and we’re gratified that Judge Bryant affirmed their right to a resolution of their case,” said Mary L. Bonauto, Pedersen lead counsel, in a statement issued Thursday by GLAD. "As long as Jerry Passaro continues to be denied his late husband’s pension; Anne Meitzen continues to be unable to go on her wife Joanne Pedersen’s health insurance, and Lynda DeForge continues to be unable to care for her wife Raquel Ardin because she can’t get Family Medical Leave, this case should be moving forward. Judge Bryant came to the right conclusion.”
Multiple DOMA cases appear headed for the Supreme Court, with both BLAG and the U.S. Department of Justice asking the high court to consider challenges within the past week. The Justice Department announced last year that it would no longer defend the 1996 law. Judge Bryant acknowledged the dynamic legal climate in her order, where she said that the “public interest” called for the Pedersen case to proceed.
“Lastly, the Court finds that public interest weighs against the entry of a stay in this matter, as the challenge to the constitutionality of Section 3 of DOMA presents an important issue to the nation as a whole such that the Second Circuit and potentially the Supreme Court would benefit from as many opinions and analyses as possible to enrich their review,” she wrote.