Three School of Law alumnae played key roles in the May defeat of the fed­eral Defense of Mar­riage Act, which defines mar­riage as a union between one man and one woman.

Mary Bonauto, L’87, who serves as civil rights project director for Gay & Les­bian Advo­cates & Defenders, and Maura Healey, L’98, chief of the Mass­a­chu­setts Attorney General’s Public Pro­tec­tion and Advo­cacy Bureau, argued the case before a fed­eral appeals court in Boston. The team sup­porting GLAD included Amy Senier, L’08, an asso­ciate with Foley Hoag in Boston.

[This] land­mark ruling makes clear once again that DOMA is a dis­crim­i­na­tory law,” said Mass­a­chu­setts Attorney Gen­eral Martha Coakley. “It is uncon­sti­tu­tional for the fed­eral gov­ern­ment to create a system of first-​​and second-​​class mar­riages, and it does harm to fam­i­lies in Mass­a­chu­setts every day.”

The ruling by the US Court of Appeals for the First Cir­cuit came down nine years after the Mass­a­chu­setts Supreme Judi­cial Court became the first court in the Western Hemi­sphere to approve same-​​sex mar­riages. The case will likely be argued before the US Supreme Court in early 2013.

DOMA, enacted by Con­gress in 1996, limits fed­eral mar­ital ben­e­fits to same-​​sex cou­ples, such as Social Secu­rity sur­vivor ben­e­fits and the ability to file joint tax returns.

The appeals court ruled unan­i­mously in two related cases. In Gill v. Office of Per­sonnel Man­age­ment, Bonauto rep­re­sented seven same-​​sex cou­ples and three sur­viving spouses of mar­riages affirmed in Mass­a­chu­setts. The plain­tiffs claimed that DOMA’s sec­tion 3 vio­lates equal pro­tec­tion guar­an­teed by the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amend­ment, citing higher taxes and a lack of health and sur­vivor ben­e­fits in com­par­ison to mar­ried het­ero­sexual couples.

On behalf of Mass­a­chu­setts, Healey argued a com­panion case against the US Depart­ment of Health and Human Ser­vices. She claimed that sec­tion 3 of DOMA is uncon­sti­tu­tional on the grounds that the 10th amend­ment reserves power not del­e­gated to the fed­eral gov­ern­ment by the Con­sti­tu­tion to the states or the people.

A fed­eral judge in Boston ruled in 2010 in favor of both Mass­a­chu­setts and the same-​​sex couple plain­tiffs. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment appealed.

Appeals Court Judge Michael Boudin wrote the unan­i­mous deci­sion for a three-​​judge panel. “Under cur­rent Supreme Court authority, Con­gress’ denial of fed­eral ben­e­fits to same-​​sex cou­ples law­fully mar­ried in Mass­a­chu­setts has not been ade­quately sup­ported by any per­mis­sible fed­eral interest,’’ he wrote.

If DOMA were left intact, Boudin noted, then same-​​sex cou­ples legally mar­ried in Mass­a­chu­setts would be denied fed­eral ben­e­fits rou­tinely pro­vided to het­ero­sexual cou­ples. That, he said, cannot with­stand legal scrutiny.