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Friday, June 1, 2012

Federal Court Declares Part of Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional

In a 3-0 decision, the First US Circuit Court of Appeals has declared a portion of the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional. The 1996 law passed by wide margins in both houses of Congress and was signed into law by President Bill Clinton.
The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Massachusetts Catholic Conference, and several other religious organizations had filed friend-of-the-court briefs in defense of the act’s constitutionality, as had various organizations and individuals, including the attorneys general of five states, the Thomas More Society, and Professor Robert George of Princeton University. Numerous associations, unions, and religious organizations, including the American Psychological Association, the National Education Association, and the Anti-Defamation League, had filed briefs asking the court to declare the law unconstitutional.

“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 stated in its decision. “DOMA does not formally invalidate same-sex marriages in states that permit them, but its adverse consequences for such a choice are considerable. Notably, it prevents same-sex married couples from filing joint federal tax returns, which can lessen tax burdens, and prevents the surviving spouse of a same-sex marriage from collecting Social Security survivor benefits.” 

“In reaching our judgment, we do not rely upon the charge that DOMA's hidden but dominant purpose was hostility to homosexuality,” the court added. “The many legislators who supported DOMA acted from a variety of motives, one central and expressed aim being to preserve the heritage of marriage as traditionally defined over centuries of Western civilization.” 

“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,” the court continued. “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 court did not strike down Section 2 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which declares that “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.” 

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