NEW YORK, NEW YORK, June 21, 2012, (LifeSiteNews.com) - A New York lesbian couple has sued to force a Catholic hospital to provide them with insurance benefits by challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
The same-sex couple has filed a lawsuit against Empire Blue Cross Blue Shield and St. Joseph’s Medical Center because one of St. Joseph’s divisions, St. Vincent’s Westchester, denied them spousal benefits.
The plaintiffs, who have chosen to remain anonymous, are seeking past and future benefits and a declaration that they are entitled to receive them.
Though New York recognizes same-sex marriage, self-insured employers such as St. Joseph’s may still refuse to recognize them because they are governed by federal regulations, rather than state regulations.
The lawsuit alleges that the federal Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as the union of one man and one woman for the purposes of federal regulations, is discriminatory and unconstitutional, and therefore cannot justify the hospital’s policy. “It’s just not socially fair,” the employee told the New York Times.
Catholic League President Bill Donohue strongly condemned the lawsuit on Wednesday in a statement e-mailed to LifeSiteNews.com, calling it an infringement on the hospital’s rights made possible by “sleuth, deception, and a wholesale disregard for the democratic process” and suggesting homosexual activists were the ones trampling on diversity.
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“It is not the Catholic Church that is seeking to impose its agenda on others” Donohue said. “It is homosexual activists who voluntarily join a Catholic institution and then seek to upend its strictures.” He noted the employee “surely knew all along…the teachings of Catholicism” on the issues of marriage and homosexuality before coming to the hospital.
DOMA has long been a high-priority target for advocates of redefining marriage. The federal Department of Justice has come under fire for refusing to defend the law in court throughout President Barack Obama’s time in office.
In July 2011, the administration called for the law to be overturned, arguing that the bill signed by President Bill Clinton was “motivated in large part by animus toward gay and lesbian individuals.”
Last month, the First Circuit Court of Appeals struck down DOMA’s federal marriage definition, ruling that benefits could not be denied to gay couples in states that recognize same-sex marriage. However, the court upheld the section of the law protecting states’ right to define marriage for themselves.
The opinion, written by a judge appointed by President George H.W. Bush, specifically denied the bill was motivated by prejudice.
Critics told LifeSiteNews at the time that the rest of his ruling was severely flawed. Liberty Counsel senior counsel Harry Mihet noted the inconsistency of ruling that “states remain free to decide the meaning of marriage for themselves and to ban homosexual ‘marriage,’ as 31 states have already done, but somehow the federal government does not have that same freedom to decide for itself…what marriage means.”
Alliance Defense Fund legal counsel Dale Schowengerdt observed that the federal government’s authority to exclude polygamy from marriage’s definition has historically been recognized, while Family Research Council President Tony Perkins argued that DOMA should be subjected to the “rational basis test,” a commonly-accepted legal standard that would recognize government’s rational interest in fostering unions that provide children with a mother and a father.
The assault on DOMA raises serious concerns for religious liberty, as well. A ruling against DOMA and St. Joseph would mean that not even religious employers who bear full financial responsibility for their own services have the right to conform those services to their religious convictions.
In October 2011, Bishop William Lori testified before a the House Judiciary subcommittee that the rhetoric used by the Justice Department against DOMA also pose a deeper threat to religious freedom.
“If the label of ‘bigot’ sticks to our Church and many other churches – especially in court, under the Constitution – because of their teaching on marriage,” he argued, “the result will be church-state conflicts for many years to come.”