Legal Briefs (February 2012)

NASW and its Massachusetts chapter filed an amicus brief where the Defense of Marriage Act is being challenged in federal court.

The case, Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, is being heard in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. NASW and the chapter argue against the 1996 law that restricts the federal definition of marriage to that between one man and one woman.

The brief highlights a body of research that strongly supports the conclusion that the federal government’s discrimination in denying benefits to married same-sex couples and awarding them to opposite-sex couples unfairly stigmatizes same-sex couples. The research also responds to the stereotype-based rationales that were advanced to support the passage of DOMA and that the Equal Protection Clause was designed to prohibit.

The brief summarizes the research findings, stating, “Empirical research demonstrates that the psychological and social aspects of committed relationships between same-sex partners closely resemble those of heterosexual partnerships. Like heterosexual couples, same-sex couples form deep emotional attachments and commitments. Heterosexual and same-sex couples alike face similar issues concerning intimacy, love, equity, loyalty, and stability, and they go through similar processes to address those "issues.”

In other news, two new NASW Legal Defense Fund articles are available:

  • Release of Records and Client Privacy addresses questions related to making well-reasoned decisions when responding to requests for confidential client information. Social workers who receive a request for client records from a third party or a subpoena will have a number of questions, such as: “Am I allowed or required to release the client’s information?” “How much information must I disclose?”
  • Social Workers and Skype, Part I examines one of the most widely available online videoconferencing technologies. Skype’s popularity has increased the availability of “telemental” health service, while raising questions about how to meet professional standards. The first of two articles reviews the emerging legal and professional issues involved in the use or potential use of Skype or similar technology as a communications modality for clinical social work assessment and treatment of clients. Part II will review legal cases and statutes, including state social work licensure.