Statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.
(San Francisco, CA, May 31, 2012)—Today, the United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. The court held that DOMA, which prevents the federal government from recognizing the marriages of same-sex couples even in states where those marriages are valid, violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws.
The ruling came in a case filed in 2009 by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders on behalf of a group of married same-sex couples who were denied federal spousal benefits such as Social Security and government employee benefits, as well as a parallel case filed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Today’s opinion upheld a 2010 decision in which U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled DOMA unconstitutional. Since Judge Tauro’s decision, two other district judges and 20 federal bankruptcy judges have ruled that DOMA violates the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause, and several additional challenges to DOMA are pending in courts across the country.
Writing for a three-judge panel, Judge Michael Boudin observed that DOMA inflicts serious harms on married same-sex couples and represents an unprecedented federal intrusion on the traditional authority of states to regulate marriage. In light of these facts, the panel held that none of the justifications offered by Congress in enacting DOMA was sufficient to uphold it. The court found that there is no “connection between DOMA’s treatment of same-sex couples and its asserted goal of strengthening the bonds and benefits to society of heterosexual marriage,” and that “Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.”
The court stayed its decision to permit the parties an opportunity to request review by the United States Supreme Court. A party may either request en banc review by all five active judges of the First Circuit within 14 days, or may file a petition requesting review directly with the Supreme Court within 90 days. There is no prescribed time for the Supreme Court to decide whether to accept a case, but the Court generally does not decide to take a case until at least 30 days after a petition for review is filed.
Statement by NCLR Legal Director Shannon Minter, Esq.:
“Today’s decision, authored by one of the most well-respected conservative federal judges in the country, sounds the death knell for this discriminatory law. Every day that DOMA remains on the books, it is causing serious harm to same-sex couples and their children and branding all lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as inferior. The Supreme Court should affirm this decision so that we can put this shameful period in our nation’s history behind us. The federal government has no interest in treating people differently because of their sexual orientation or gender identity.”
The National Center for Lesbian Rights is a national legal organization committed to advancing the civil and human rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people and their families through litigation, public policy advocacy, and public education.