Thursday, May 31, 2012

Appellate Court Voids Core of DOMA Unanimously!!

Excellent news out of Boston today! The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has upheld the July 8, 2010 trial court decision in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Massachusetts v U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in unanimously ruling that the so-called "Defense of Marriage Act" violates the United States constitution. This is the first (but probably not the last!) appellate court to strike down Section 3 of DOMA, the part which purports to establish a federal definition of marriage for the purpose of disbursal of federal benefits, regardless of a state's definition of marriage.

Gay and Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) who in 2003 had previously won the Goodridge case leading to marriage equality in the state of Massachusetts, sued the federal government, along with Massachusetts' Attorney General Martha Coakley that married U.S. citizens were  being denied federal benefits thanks to DOMA.

Here's a key excerpt from the decision:
We conclude, without resort to suspect classifications or any impairment of Baker, that the rationales offered do not provide adequate support for section 3 of DOMA.  Several of the reasons given do not match the statute and several others are diminished by specific holdings in Supreme Court decisions more or less directly
on point.  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. 
The opponents of section 3 point to selected comments from a few individual legislators; but the motives of a small group cannot taint a statute supported by large majorities in both Houses and signed by President Clinton.  Traditions are the glue that holds society together, and many of our own traditions rest largely on belief and familiarity--not on benefits firmly provable in court. The desire to retain them is strong and can be honestly held. 
For 150 years, this desire to maintain tradition would alone have been justification enough for almost any statute.  This judicial deference has a distinguished lineage, including such figures as Justice Holmes, the second Justice Harlan, and Judges
Learned Hand and Henry Friendly.  But Supreme Court decisions in the last fifty years call for closer scrutiny of government action touching upon minority group interests and of federal action in areas of traditional state concern. 
To conclude, many Americans believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and most Americans live in states where that is the law today.  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.  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.
The ruling's effect was stayed until the United States Supreme Court could grant certiorari (take up the case). Only the U.S. Supreme Court can strike down a federal law and have it's impact apply to the entire nation, the 1st Circuit's ruling, if it is not appealed, would apply to Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine and Puerto Rico (MA and NH already have marriage equality and ME is voting on the question late this year ).

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