In a great leap forward for marriage equality, one critical section of the federal Defense of Marriage Act has been ruled unconstitutional by a federal judge in Massachusetts. The rulings from Judge Joseph Tauro came from two separate cases and concern Section 3 of the law that limits the definition of marriage for federal benefits to straight couples:
In one challenge brought by the state of Massachusetts, Judge Joseph Tauro ruled that Congress violated the Tenth Amendment to the US Constitution when it passed DOMA and took from the states decisions concerning which couples can be considered married. In the other, Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, he ruled DOMA violates the equal protection principles embodied in the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment.
For anyone paying attention when DOMA was drafted these rulings are cause for celebration. The law has always been one of separate and unequal when it comes to the rights of gay and lesbian people to enter into the legal civil contract of marriage.
The judge’s ruling makes it clear that this is an unacceptable state of affairs:
This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status. 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.
For those blanking on the Tenth Amendment, it states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”
In short, the judge is making the favorite argument of those who oppose marriage equality: it’s a matter of state’s rights. The state, the judge has ruled, has the right to grant marriage licenses and when it grants them to same-sex couples those couples are then entitled to all the rights and benefits that go along with that—whether that right or benefit is from the state or federal government. The federal government cannot withhold its rights and benefits of marriage to any legally married couple no matter their gender.
In addition, GLAD attorney Mary Bonauto “said the government has no reason to withhold the more than 1,000 federal benefits of marriage from same-sex couples, and noted that a House Judiciary Committee report ‘explicitly stated the purpose of DOMA was to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.’”
The case will now go to the US Court of Appeals, but most certainly will wind up before the Supreme Court at some point. It will be interesting to see if those conservative “state’s rights” justices will suddenly abandon their convictions.