Federal Court Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act As Unconstitutional

In a major ruling, United States District Court Judge Joseph L. Tauro has struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining lmarriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman. The bill was supported and signed by former President Bill Clinton. Tauro was appointed to the bench by President Nixon back in 1972.

The Court reviewed claims in two related cases: Gill v. Office of Personnel Management and Massachusetts v. HHS.

The law protected states from having to recognize the marriage licenses issued to same sex couples in other states:

No State, territory, or possession of the United States, or Indian tribe, shall be required to give effect to any public act, record, or judicial proceeding of any other State, territory, possession, or tribe respecting a relationship between persons of the same sex that is treated as a marriage under the laws of such other State, territory, possession, or tribe, or a right or claim arising from such relationship.

Judge Tauro ruled “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.” It will be interesting to see the attacks from the right on the decision since it is heavily steeped in states’ rights: noting that “the federal government traditionally regarded marital status determinations as the exclusive province of state government.” Tauro found that DOMA violated the Tenth Amendment and constitutes a strong endorsement of the inherent rights of states. While that should please liberals in the result, it is the type of argument that supports the challenges to such federal laws as the National Health Care bill. For an earlier column, click here.

The Court follows the earlier decision in United States v. Bongiorno

That DOMA plainly intrudes on a core area of state sovereignty—the ability to define the marital status of its citizens—also convinces this court that the statute violates the Tenth Amendment.

In United States v. Bongiorno, the First Circuit held that “a Tenth Amendment attack on a federal statute cannot succeed without three ingredients: (1) the statute must regulate the States as States, (2) it must concern attributes of state sovereignty, and (3) it must be of such a nature that compliance with it would impair a state’s ability to structure integral operations in areas of traditional governmental functions.”

The Court found that the prongs were satisfied here and noted that the Justice Department offered little to rebut the historical and policy arguments put forward by the plaintiffs. Instead, the Court found the federal government largely arguing that this was simply an important political issue — which is less compelling in this context as a constitutional claim:

That the government views same-sex marriage as a contentious social issue cannot justify its intrusion on the “core of sovereignty retained by the States,” because “the Constitution … divides power among sovereigns and among branches of government precisely so that we may resist the temptation to concentrate power in one location as an expedient solution to the crisis of the day.” 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.

The decision could trigger renewed calls for a constitutional amendment limiting marriage to members of the opposite sex. For the purposes of full disclosure, I have long argued that the states should uniformly adopt a civil union standard and leave “marriages” to the respective faiths to define or recognize. At a time when Republicans are finding considerable success on the immigration issue, this decision could give them another cause for the November elections to rally the troops.

For the opinion in the Commonwealth case, click here.

Source: Boston

20 thoughts on “Federal Court Strikes Down Defense of Marriage Act As Unconstitutional

  1. Your remedy for dealing with religion in marriages misses the point–it’s always been a contract, often akin to mergers and acquisistions. The role of religion varies greatly and giving an explicit role to religion strengthens their claiims to trying to insert themselves into the regulation of marriage. Creating a category of religious marriage would only lead to efforts by religions, mostly the evangelical/fundamentalists to create privileiges for people with a religious marriage. The best thing we can do is keep it civil and provide real separation of church and state.

  2. Calling it a “civil union” instead of a marriage is just playing a word game, the point is to deliver the benefits of marriage. It would be politically infeasible to suddenly claim that 40 million marriages in the USA are now “civil unions.”

    The proper route is simply a secular definition of marriage for the purpose of spousal rights and taxation, and a secular definition of divorce for the same purpose. Whatever churches do on top of that is up to them; if they don’t want to perform marriages for same-sex couples they don’t have to allow it.

  3. Tony C,

    “…. The proper route is simply a secular definition of marriage for the purpose of spousal rights and taxation, and a secular definition of divorce for the same purpose. …”

    =================================================================

    I may be missing a specific legal meaning here but I thought the term “civil union” was a secular definition of marriage. Please explain what I’m missing.

  4. Good on you, Judge Joseph L. Tauro.

    Blouise,

    You’re missing the fact that separate is by it’s very nature not equal in this case. Words can be powerful symbols, and the word marriage has deeper connotations that “civil union” can never approach. So while legally the two might be equally, socially, culturally, and in other very important and tangible ways, they aren’t.

    Also, as I’ve pointed out before marriage is already a strictly civil contract. Period. That’s why you apply for marriage licenses from the state, not your pastor. So there’s NO NEED to create a separate category.

    The wedding can be religious or not, and you can view your marriage as sanctioned by a deity. That doesn’t change the fact that the state views your wedding and your marriage as two different things (In fact, my wedding was a full 4 days after we were legally wed).

  5. The Bible clearly states, “Let no man tear asunder what God has joined”. As far as I’m concerned this was the correct Biblical ruling by the judge. It was a Biblical ruling, right?

  6. Gyges,

    Yep, got all that … I was raised a Congregationalist wherein the contract of marriage is a “civil contract or union” and marriage is not a sacrament … baptism is etc. … so I’m not hampered by religious teachings in this matter.

    What I was questioning was Tony C’s statement that we needed a “secular definition of marriage for the purpose of spousal rights and taxation …” and why the term “civil union” was not a secular definition of marriage for the purpose of spousal rights and taxation.

  7. A marriage is a contract between two adults.

    Government should have no role in defining, licensing or restricting marriage, nor should government confer special benefits (like tax incentives) to those who are married. I acknowledge that we are quite far from that ideal today, and that government does not yet recognize a fundamental right to marry.

    The potential limitation on federal power that this case creates is welcome and useful, although the ruling reaffirms the notion that government – at some level – has control over the creation of adult relationships. Government should not have that power.

  8. Jill

    The Bible clearly states, “Let no man tear asunder what God has joined”. As far as I’m concerned this was the correct Biblical ruling by the judge. It was a Biblical ruling, right?

    =================================================================

    lol …

    U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, Act. I “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; ….”

    Religion cannot legally add their beliefs to the secular legal code this country was (is) founded upon.

  9. Blouise,

    I guess my answer is: it would be, but it’d also be redundant.

    Puzzling,

    Contracts don’t exist without the framework of laws provided by the government, that’s what makes them contracts instead of agreements. What you’re saying is like saying “The government should have no power in punishing crimes.” ONLY the government can define contracts, just like only the government can punish crimes. Without the government neither exists. If two people want to live together, great, if they want to be in a committed relationship, great, if they want to sign a contract that grants benefits, then they need the government.

  10. Gyges

    Blouise,

    I guess my answer is: it would be, but it’d also be redundant.

    =================================================================

    Hmm … The Sacrament of Civil Union … for those who want to dress it up a little … The Holy Sacrament of Civil Union. For those not interested in a religious ceremony … Civil Union. Redundancy not a problem.

  11. The thing is, would not a clear legal definition of marriage between consenting adults then garner all entities to behave in a certain way towards those engaged in such a contract? Like, then my gay friends could claim spousal insurance benefits from their respective employers etc? plus the benes in reduced taxes etc…and when all the states catch up; ease in adoption, stuff like that?

  12. For me the main benefit of using the term “civil union” for the legal part and “marriage” for the religious or ceremonial or cultural part is that it defuses the issue. It legally equalizes gay and hetero partnerships while taking the government out of defining what is or isn’t marriage.

    Mazeltohv to all new or prospective union members.

  13. Gyges,

    I accept that a legitimate role of government is to enforce contracts.

    That is different than saying that government has the power to dictate the gender, race or reproductive fitness of those who enter into a contract, including a marriage contract.

  14. Puzzling,

    “The Government shouldn’t restrict the ability to enter into X” is a whole different beast than “Government should have no role in X.”

    Your rhetoric got in the way of your meaning.

  15. Somethings just want to make you get up and smile, because you knows its going to be a great day. Then you see this and it is confirmed.

  16. What an exciting week! First this ruling, then the Presbyterian church proposes to allow the ordination of non-celibate homosexuals; then the Today Show wades into the waters by allowing same-sex couples to compete in its wedding contest. This is the reddest meat that could have been tossed to the religious conservatives. The only thing missing is the repeal of DADT, but we do need to save something for next week.

    I’m all for keeping the marriage business run by the state. Let the churches decide if they want to conduct services for their GLBT members and let everybody else do as they wish. Over time, the institution of marriage has undergone many changes, though nobody from the right side of the aisle appears to know that. Conservative politicians and religious hacks certainly have a big stake in continuing to hijack this issue; it’s past time for the courts to take it away from them.

Comments are closed.