First US Circuit Court of Appeals: DOMA unconstitutional

Boston – A three judge panel of the First US Circuit Court of Appeals today ruled unanimously DOMA (the Defense of Marriage Act) unconstitutional.

Passed by Congress, and signed by President Clinton on September 21, 1996, the act prevented the Federal Government from recognizing same-gender marriages, and allowed states to refuse to recognize any such marriages legally performed by other states.

This created the novel legal situation where both the Federal Government and individual states could pick and choose which marriage licenses they would accept as valid, and which they would ignore.  The courts have ruled that unconstitutional.

Judge Michael Boudin wrote for the panel, saying “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.”

The court noted the results of DOMA, where lesbian and gay couples who were legally married in Massachusetts were denied Federal benefits granted to straight couples.  This, the Court found, could not withstand legal scrutiny.  “Under current Supreme Court authority,” the Court found,  “Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.’’

Now we’ll wait to see if the defenders of DOMA (not the Justice Department, who declined to defend the case due to their finding the Act unconstitutional, leaving the defense to the House of Representatives Speaker John Boehner’s legal team) appeal to the full Appeals Court, or if the case goes to the Supreme Court.

Another nail in the coffin, another step on the road to equality.

Boston.com story, here.
Full ruling, here.

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