Jeremy Denlea, the Ward 5 representative on the Attleboro City Council, was in a victorious mood Thursday afternoon after the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Manhattan issued a 2-1 decision that determined the Defense of Marriage Act, commonly known as DOMA, was unconstitutional.
Signed into law by President Bill Clinton (who has since denounced it) in 1996, DOMA defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman. The decision on Thursday was the second time a federal appellate panel has struck down the law. Many legal experts say the case, Windsor v. United States, could go before the U.S. Supreme Court.
Calling himself "a proud gay man who has been married to the love of my life for over two years now," Denlea contacted Attleboro-Seekonk Patch to share his appreciation for the Manhattan court's decision.
"I applaud the federal Court of Appeals' decision ruling the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional," wrote Denlea in an email. "I am proud of both the city of Attleboro and the commonwealth of Massachusetts, who have long led the United States in the areas of equal rights and social justice."
Denlea is one of three elected city officials who is openly gay. The others are Mayor Kevin Dumas and Ward 2 City Councilor Mark Cooper. All three men are married to other men. A legal mind who received his law degree from the University of Boston, Denlea spoke briefly with Attleboro-Seekonk Patch about the court decision and his belief that Attleboro is a city of acceptance.
Attleboro-Seekonk Patch: What is the significance of this court decision?
Jeremy Denlea: The Defense of Marriage Act has many negative repercussions for gay and lesbian individuals that are both financial and social. This case specifically focuses on the fiscal aspects of the law and was brought by an individual who was required to pay $363,053 in federal estate taxes after her partner of over 40 years died. Because of the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal government refused to recognize their marriage, and therefore she lost any and all marital tax benefits, which are legally guaranteed to all married couples. If the Defense of Marriage Act were to be overturned, she would be taxed in the same exact manner as a widow whose husband had died.
Patch: Explain the court's reasoning behind the decision.
JD: Judge Dennis Jacobs, who authored the opinion, stated that "classification of same-sex spouses was not substantially related to an important government interest." What this means in practice is that when the federal government discriminates against gay and lesbian individuals, the courts must now presume that the discrimination is unconstitutional and therefore unlawful.
Patch: You called Attleboro a leader in "the areas of equal rights and social justice." Please expand on that.
JD: Attleboro has long been a community known for its acceptance. Throughout history, many different disaffected communities have come to Attleboro because of its welcoming nature. Whether the Portuguese community, the Cambodian community or the gay and lesbian community, the city of Attleboro has continually shown it values and dignifies all individuals equally.