U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit declares DOMA unconstitutional
May 31, 2012
This morning, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit declared the so-called Defense of Marriage Act - which prohibits federal recognition of same-sex marriages, even those performed in states where the freedom to marry is legal - unconstitutional. The panel ruled in Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, which was filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders on behalf of married couples and widowers in Massachusetts, as well as in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, filed by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley.
The ruling was decided unanimously by a panel of three judges, including two Republican appointees, Juan Torruella and Michael Boudin, as well as Chief Circuit Judge Sandra Lynch. Judge Boudin's ruling concludes that Section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional. He writes:
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.
This ruling upholds a previous decision from U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro, who found DOMA to be unconstitutional on July 8, 2010.
Our founder and President Evan Wolfson, who led the Hawaii marriage case cited in the ruling, commented on the landmark decision:
Today's unanimous decision issued by the First Circuit Court of Appeals is a powerful affirmation that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is an unconstitutional and unjust law whose days are numbered. This ruling will return the federal government to its historic role of respecting marriages performed in the states, without carving out a ‘gay exception' that denies thousands of protections.
As more loving same-sex couples commit their lives to one another in marriage, the harms of this unjust law become more clear - from service members, risking their lives to protect ours, being denied the ability to protect their own families through military medical insurance or survivor benefits to senior citizens having to move out of their homes after their partners of many decades pass on because they cannot access Social Security protections afforded any other legally married couple.
The ruling is consistent with previous declarations that DOMA is unconstitutional, including President Barack Obama's announcement from February 2011 that the Department of Justice would no longer be defending DOMA in court.
Freedom to Marry salutes the amazing legal work by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD) in bringing forth this lawsuit.