Married same-sex couples cannot make joint contributions to federal candidates as opposite-sex couples are permitted to do, the Federal Election Commission said Thursday, a decision that gay rights advocates said reinforced their case for overturning the Defense of Marriage Act. The five-member, bipartisan panel said the 1996 law defining marriage as between a man and woman prohibited the commission from viewing gay couples as spouses, even when they have legally wed under state law. The unanimous opinion came in response to a query by Massachusetts state Rep. Dan Winslow, a moderate Republican and supporter of gay marriage who is running in the April 30 special primary to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Secretary of State John F. Kerry.
Attorneys for Winslow told the commission this month that gay couples wanted to donate to his campaign with a single check, as heterosexual married couples are allowed to do.
Under FEC rules, a contribution made by a married couple in a single check is credited half to one spouse and half to the other for accounting purposes. That means that even when one spouse is the sole income-earner, each can donate the maximum contribution allowed under the law.
But the commission said Thursday that gay couples could not contribute with one check because the Defense of Marriage Act clearly defined “spouses” as referring to a husband and wife.
“I understand why they decided the way they did,” said Craig Engle, an attorney for Winslow. “DOMA tied their hands. Sometimes what’s right is not legal.”