The Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defines marriage in the United States as an act between one man and one woman. Today – Thursday, May 31, 2012 – part of the law was deemed unconstitutional.
The 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled that it was unconstitutional to deny same-sex married couples tax, health and pension benefits in states where it is legal for same-sex marriages to be performed. The ruling Thursday will not affect same-sex couples in states where gay marriage is still illegal.
The ruling was unanimous.
“If we are right in thinking that disparate impact on minority interests and federalism concerns both require somewhat more in this case than almost automatic deference to Congress’ will, this statute fails that test,” said the three-judge panel.
The decision was 43 pages in length. Appeals Court Judge Michael Boudin wrote, in part:
Invalidating a federal statute is an unwelcome responsibility for federal judges; the elected Congress speaks for the entire nation, its judgment and good faith being entitled to utmost respect. But a lower federal court such as ours must follow its best understanding of governing precedent, knowing that in large matters the Supreme Court will correct mis-readings.
As with the women, the poor and the mentally impaired, gays and lesbians have long been the subject of discrimination. In reaching our judgment, we do not rely upon the charge that DOMA’s hidden but dominant purpose was hostility to homosexuality. The many legislators who supported DOMA acted from a variety of motives, one central and expressed aim being to preserve the heritage of marriage as traditionally defined over centuries of Western civilization.
Upon receiving the news in our office this morning, Co-Editor Charlene Strong offered, “Again, DOMA has been deemed unconstitutional. Again, it makes me wonder about the bigger picture of our country and whether federal DOMA will finally be repealed. Time and time again, judges continue to say that it is unconstitutional, yet we can’t seem to attain equality for same-sex couples.” Strong is also a Washington State Human Rights Commissioner.
President Obama recently announced his support for same-sex marriage in the U.S. saying that gay couples “should be able to get married.”
Vice President Biden also supports same-sex marriage. In an interview with Meet the Press he said, “I am absolutely comfortable with the fact that men marrying men, women marrying women, and heterosexual men and women marrying another are entitled to the same exact rights, all the civil rights, all the civil liberties. And quite frankly, I don’t see much of a distinction– beyond that.”
DOMA was enacted in 1992 during President Clinton’s administration.