Boston appeals court rules Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional
May 31st, 2012
10:58 AM ET

Boston appeals court rules Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional

The 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston has ruled the Defense of Marriage Act, the federal law that defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman, discriminates against gay couples.

In the unanimous ruling, a three-judge panel agreed with a decision made by a lower court in 2010 that DOMA is unconstitutional on the basis that it interferes with an individual state's right to define marriage.

“Invalidating a federal statute is an unwelcome responsibility for federal judges; the elected Congress speaks for the entire nation, its judgment and good faith being entitled to utmost respect,’’ the ruling said. “But a lower federal court such as ours must follow its best understanding of governing precedent, knowing that in large matters the Supreme Court will correct mis-readings.”

At issue is whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can legally marry.
"If we are right in thinking that disparate impact on minority interests and federalism concerns both require somewhat more in this case than almost automatic deference to Congress' will, this statute fails that test," said the three-judge panel.

In the ruling, the judges said that they weighed various factors. While they noted that the law does discriminate against a group that has, like many others, faced oppression, they did not view the federal law as something fueled by anti-homosexual  sentiment.

“As with the women, the poor and the mentally impaired, gays and lesbians have long been the subject of discrimination,’’ the ruling said. “In reaching our judgment, we do not rely upon the charge that DOMA’s hidden but dominant purpose was hostility to homosexuality. 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.’’

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley hailed the ruling by the appeals court.

“Today’s landmark ruling makes clear once again that DOMA is a discriminatory law for which there is no justification," she said in a press release. "It is unconstitutional for the federal government to create a system of first- and second-class marriages, and it does harm to families in Massachusetts every day. All Massachusetts couples should be afforded the same rights and protections under the law, and we hope that this decision will be the final step toward ensuring that equality for all.”

Last year President Obama announced that the Justice Department would no longer argue for the constitutionality of the ban on same-sex marriage.

"My Justice Department has said to the courts, we don't think the Defense of Marriage Act is constitutional," the president said on "The View" earlier this month. "This is something that historically had been determined at the state level and part of my believing ultimately that civil unions weren't sufficient."

In an interview with ABC this month, Obama also officially expressed support for members of the same gender to legally wed.

"I've just concluded that for me, personally, it is important for me to go ahead and affirm that I think same-sex couples should be able to get married," Obama said in the interview.

By the numbers: Same-sex marriage | Read the full opinion

soundoff (384 Responses)
  1. Ben

    Marriage is a contract, made between two consenting adults. If you want to talk about nature, many other species engage in same gender relations. NONE engage in marriage. Marriage itself should be the discrimination against nature.
    If you want to plead religion, then marriage should give you NO extra rights under the law.
    If you want to plead Christianity specifically, remember Solomon(the wisest man in God's eyes) had 700 wives and 300 concubines, so no "one" man and "one" woman.
    If you want to plead tradition, I'll trade you two goats for your teenage daughter.
    Or maybe it's just time everyone is treated fairly under the law, and people re-read the 14th amendment. I notice a lot of the louder folks stop on the Second one.

    May 31, 2012 at 12:52 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Alex

    Fellow Liberals: they've figured us out! They know about our time spent at our elite colleges creating the "gay bomb" that would go back to the beginning of time and make the gay gene contagious and affect a radius of 50,000 miles of people from the point where a gay couple gets married. Hurry, we must rush back to the Sagan-mobile to the past and make sure this plan doesn't leak again!

    May 31, 2012 at 12:53 pm | Report abuse |
  3. Ben

    @Bob – The road was started on before there was a United States. Marriage has always evolved with society.

    May 31, 2012 at 12:54 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Bregs

    Win win for all. Libs get rights for the descriminated and the Conserves get the defense of states rights. A good day for America.

    May 31, 2012 at 12:55 pm | Report abuse |
  5. Mike

    "Marriage has always evolved with society"...only with societies that were wiped out due to immoral behaviors.

    May 31, 2012 at 12:57 pm | Report abuse |
    • NotBuyingIt

      Pretty sure the societies you're talking about never actually existed.
      Keep living the fantasy, buddy!

      May 31, 2012 at 1:02 pm | Report abuse |
  6. Mike

    "If you want to talk about nature, many other species engage in same gender relations. NONE engage in marriage"... that is simply not true, many animals mate for life.

    May 31, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Tired of dumb issues.

    While children in places such as the horn of Africa that are dying of hunger, murdered in Syria by their own government and In America by other children its amazing to me that here in this courtry people are spending so much time worring about who can marry who. Get a damn grip people and go after issues that are worthy of having this much attention such as those Ive already mentioned, gangs, drug abuse, obesity or even our own governments inability to pull us out of the 16 trillion dollar debt and get everyone that wants to work back in and working with good jobs that not only allow them to enjoy life but also proper health insurance and retirement.

    May 31, 2012 at 12:59 pm | Report abuse |
    • JeramieH

      Because we're incapable of working on more than one issue at a time?

      May 31, 2012 at 1:56 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Ryan


    Blah blah blah. Yes there are problems in the world, including rights in America. I'm sure if you were gay and weren't able to visit your significant other in the hospital as he dies, you would be slightly more concerned about the issue. You are on a blog post about gay rights, if you want to talk about other issues don't read this, there is more than enough coverage of everything else.

    May 31, 2012 at 1:03 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Ben

    @Mike – mating for life isn't marriage.
    And, societies that consider underage girls property are the only ones still around? Or are you mis-referring to Sodom and Gommorah? They were destroyed by God(in the Bible) for not treating people fairly, specifically their poor. It mentioned same gender relations along with other things that happened,
    And look at the US. Vilifying the poor. Not a lot of Bible-thumpers have a lot to say about that.

    May 31, 2012 at 1:04 pm | Report abuse |
  10. me

    Does it ever occur to people of faith that a 'god' who would be willing to condemn a person to an eternity in 'hell' for loving the 'wrong person' would make their 'god'...well..nicely put I guess an incredible jerk? Why would anyone want to follow such a childish, hateful, unpleasant, angry, detestable being?

    May 31, 2012 at 1:06 pm | Report abuse |
  11. anita

    My opinion is that we have very serious matters going on in the world; wars, debt, hunger, disease, no medical for many, ceime, tax dollars being spent reckless, etc.
    If two human beings fall in love & choose too marry, how does this hurt anyone, &
    Before anyone starts with the {its a sin} thing, remember its also a sin too judge,& and again I say IF IT IS a sin, then that is between GOD @ that person, not YOU. I rhink alot of society needs too look @ things going on in their own homes, and rhworld issues going on right now, and use that time & energy too make our world a more peaceful, caring, world and making an example too your children and society.

    May 31, 2012 at 1:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ben

      I think I love you.

      May 31, 2012 at 1:09 pm | Report abuse |
  12. da

    the problem with both the Court's decision and the statement from the White House is that they are both incorrect. while these decisions have typically been made by states in the past, and past or present there is nothing in the Const-itution that allows the Federal government to make the decision for all, the simple fact of the matter is that marriage is a religious concept. legal joining via recognition of a contractual relationship for purposes of survivorship, joint ownership, etc. is recognized as a facet of marriage, but is not necessary to it, or vice versa. a contract without the trappings of marriage could accomplish the same thing. likewise, a marriage can exist as a comitment between two people with or without the legal recognition. the entire argument is quite simply moot. government at all levels should be backing away from marriage because it is a) a personal issue, which means that government cannot interfere unless the Const-itution so provides, and b) related in many cases to religion, which per the Const-itution goverment must neither prohibit nor establish. it is past time to get the government (at all levels) back to doing only the limited and enumerated roles the Const-itution and state equivalents indicate!!!

    May 31, 2012 at 1:21 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Ben

    @da There IS something in the Const-i-tu-tion. The 14th Amendment >> No State <<shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States

    May 31, 2012 at 1:31 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Ben

    It's funny that without the filter, no one would have mentioned t-i-t. Now, it's all I can think of. Thanks, CNN.

    May 31, 2012 at 1:35 pm | Report abuse |
  15. phdsam

    Why do states have the right do define marriage based on religion? Having a law that denies you the right to marry as you believe speaks volumes! It says loud and clear "those of us who believe God only meant marriage to be between a man and a woman are superior to those who think otherwise and therefore should receive more benefits and rights."

    It also says, "we know God and you don't. He personally told us what he meant!"

    What freaking bum foolery !!!!!

    May 31, 2012 at 1:38 pm | Report abuse |
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