Appeals Court Rules Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional

Posted May 31, 2012 in Landmark Court Cases by

Institutionalized discrimination by Uncle Sam against the LGBT community is no more, says a federal court in Boston. The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled today that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), a 1996 law that specifically denies federal marriage benefits to gay couples regardless of whether they are legally married in their state, is unconstitutional.

Opponents of the law, including the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD), had argued that the federal government had never before interfered with states’ decisions on marriage until DOMA. The Boston court agreed. “One virtue of federalism is that it permits this diversity of governance based on local choice, but this applies as well to the states that have chosen to legalize same-sex marriage,” said the court’s opinion. “Under current Supreme Court authority, Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.”

Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont and the District of Columbia all allow LGBT marriage, with Maryland and Washington state set to join them next year, barring referendum challenge.

Gay rights groups are reacting with joy.

“We applaud the court for affirming that legal marriages in the states – and all the rights and protections that come with those marriages – should be recognized and respected by our federal government,” said Servicemembers Legal Defense Network Executive Director Aubrey Sarvis in a press release. “We congratulate the GLAD attorneys and plaintiffs in this case and look forward with them to the day when every American – especially those putting their lives on the line to protect our nation – has the freedom to marry the person they love, knowing that their commitment will be honored by their government.”

President Obama had previously instructed the Justice Department to no longer defend DOMA in court, and a Respect for Marriage Act that would repeal DOMA has been brewing in Congress, putting the discriminatory law under attack from all three branches of government.

Appeal of the First Circuit Court’s ruling is almost certain, which means DOMA will likely be heard in the U.S. Supreme Court for a final judgement.


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