Thursday, July 08, 2010

BREAKING: Section 3 of DOMA found unconstitutional, violates equal protection

Denise Lavoie, A U.S. judge in Boston has ruled that a federal gay marriage ban is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define marriage.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro on Thursday ruled in favor of gay couples' rights in two separate challenges to the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA.

The state had argued the law denied benefits such as Medicaid to gay married couples in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions have been legal since 2004.

Tauro agreed, and said the act forces Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens.

"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. For that reason, the statute is invalid," Tauro wrote in a ruling in a lawsuit filed by Attorney General Martha Coakley.

Ruling in a separate case filed by Gays & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, Tauro found that DOMA violates the equal protection clause of the U.S. Constitution.

"We've maintained from the very beginning that there was absolutely no basis for this law treating one class of married Massachusetts couples different from everybody else and the court has recognized that," said Gary Buseck, GLAD's legal director.

The Justice Department argued the federal government has the right to set eligibility requirements for federal benefits – including requiring that those benefits only go to couples in marriages between a man and a woman.

The law was enacted by Congress in 1996 when it appeared Hawaii would soon legalize same-sex marriage and opponents worried that other states would be forced to recognize such marriages. The lawsuit challenges only the portion of the law that prevents the federal government from affording pension and other benefits to same-sex couples.

Since then, five states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage.

Joe Sudbay, Historic day for LGBT equality. Finally. We needed a win for a change.

A Federal District Court Judge in Massachusetts ruled in two DOMA cases today. In Gill v. OPM, brought by GLAD, the judge ruled:
In the wake of DOMA, it is only sexual orientation that differentiates a married couple entitled to federal marriage-based benefits from one not so entitled. And this court can conceive of no way in which such a difference might be relevant to the provision of the benefits at issue. 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. And where, as here, “there is no reason to believe that the disadvantaged class is different, in relevant respects” from a similarly situated class, this court may conclude that it is only irrational prejudice that motivates the challenged classification. As irrational prejudice plainly never constitutes a legitimate government interest, this court must hold that Section 3 of DOMA as applied to Plaintiffs violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Fifth Amendment to the United States Constitution.
In a case brought by the Attorney General of Massachusetts, the Judge found that Section 3 of DOMA violated the Tenth Amendment.

I've posted the decisions at In the Gill decision, the Judge concluded, "DOMA fails to pass constitutional muster even under the highly deferential rational basis test." That is a highly deferential test. So, there was no rational basis for the law.

The Judge included this explanation of Section 3 of DOMA:

At issue in this case is Section 3 of DOMA, which defines the terms “marriage” and “spouse,” for purposes of federal law, to include only the union of one man and one woman. In particular, it provides that:

In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or
interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word “marriage” means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word “spouse” refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or wife.

Today, we celebrate. But, this is only the beginning of the process. We'll have to find out if the Obama administration plans to appeal these rulings. (Note to Obama administration: Please don't.)

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