Federal judge strikes down Defense of Marriage Act

[JURIST] A judge for the US District Court for the District of Massachusetts [official website] ruled Thursday that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) [text; JURIST news archive] definition of marriage as between a man and a woman is unconstitutional because it interferes with the states' right to define marriage. Judge Joseph Tauro issued rulings in two separate cases challenging the DOMA—one filed by the Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) [advocacy website] on behalf of seven same-sex couples married in Massachusetts, and the other filed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. In the GLAD lawsuit, Tauro granted summary judgment [opinion, PDF] for the plaintiffs, holding that Section 3 of the DOMA violates equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment [text] because it denies many federal benefits to same-sex married couples. Tauro stated that in light of the DOMA, sexual orientation is the only differentiating factor between a married couple entitled to federal marriage-based benefits and a married couple not entitled to the benefits. Tauro concluded that the classification based on sexual orientation was based on an "irrational prejudice" that can "never constitute a legitimate government interest." He also indicated that sexual orientation was not relevant to the benefits in question and that the only pertinent classification for the benefits is marital status, saying:

By premising eligibility for these benefits on marital status in the first instance, the federal government signals to this court that the relevant distinction to be drawn is between married individuals and unmarried individuals. To further divide the class of married individuals into those with spouses of the same sex and those with spouses of the opposite sex is to create a distinction without meaning.
In the second case, filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley [official website], Tauro ruled [opinion, PDF] that Section 3 violates the state's right to define marriage under the Tenth Amendment [text]. Tauro said that it is:
Clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status. The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and, in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment.
Both Coakley and GLAD [press releases] welcomed the rulings. The US Department of Justice (DOJ) [official website] is likely to appeal both decisions.

The Obama administration has said the DOMA is discriminatory but has maintained that it is nonetheless constitutional. The DOJ moved to dismiss [JURIST report] the Massachusetts lawsuit in November, stating that it is the policy of the government to support federal statutes as long as there is a reasonable argument in favor of their constitutionality. Massachusetts, the first state to recognize gay marriage, initiated the suit [JURIST report] against the federal government last July. The DOJ also sought to dismiss [JURIST report] the GLAD case on the basis that Congress has the authority to pass legislation defining marriage. The Obama administration has extended some federal benefits [JURIST report] to same-sex couples, including allowing domestic partners to be added to insurance programs, to use medical facilities, and to be included in family size and house allocation considerations. Last month, Obama ordered executive agencies to expand [JURIST report] federal childcare subsidies and services and travel and relocation payments to the same-sex partners of federal employees and their children.

 

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