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. Mimi

    Does the "Defense of marrige act" also discriminate against polygamists??

    May 31, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
    • whineyface

      Polygamy is not the issue being discussed. Please take your attempted distraction elsewhere.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Idaho

      Polygamy is abuse of women. As a gay man, polygamy has nothing to do with whether gay people can marry.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe Wagner

      Yes, it does.

      If the federal government is going to provide incentives for people to be married (e.g. lower taxes, homestead acts) then the law should be applied justly.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
    • S

      Yes it does. If the whole argument is consenting adults.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:55 am | Report abuse |
    • stronghold

      You are right...... so the next thing will be you can marry as many people as you want!

      May 31, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
    • Shadowflash1522

      There are major legal ramifications to permitting multiple marriages (health insurance, division of property, etc.) that are not present in gay marriage between two consenting adults. Your comparison is apples and oranges.

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

    Congrats, @Smart Human, on the most ironic user name.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:36 am | Report abuse |
  3. Boston

    This is great news! Another victory that overshadows the current hostility against Gays and Lesbians and makes the Pastors in North Carolina and Kansas just seem like bigger bigots and morons.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
  4. Alex

    I miss when marriage used to mean something... like one woman equals a dowry of two goats, a small bag of gold coins, and maybe some fine cloths.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:37 am | Report abuse |
    • barbarabarham

      Too bad you were born in the 20th century. I'm kind of glad that I'm worth more than 2 goats and some coins. Geezzz...I can't believe you wrote this.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
    • KelKel

      HAHAHAH, good point

      May 31, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      Alex wins comment of the week.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  5. Tom Graves

    This is a major victory for marriage equality, and will have a direct impact on how my husband and I file our income taxes, and in the myrad other ways we have been treated differently from other couples. I know it's not the end of the road, but I feel like we can see it now on the horizon.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:40 am | Report abuse |
  6. Better Think Twice

    Marriage is Absolute – One Man and One Woman.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • D

      Apparently not. Enjoy being 70 though!

      May 31, 2012 at 11:41 am | Report abuse |
    • Bill

      By who's definition?

      May 31, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      To "Better Think Twice"

      You 'better think twice" before you write or speak.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:25 pm | Report abuse |
    • Steven

      Not anymore!

      May 31, 2012 at 5:37 pm | Report abuse |
  7. CNNuthin

    And another Blue Law struck down.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  8. BOb the Prairie Dog

    Two thing bother me about the Republican response: 1. It is impossible to rectify the contradiction between your wanting "less government" and demanding that the government to infringe upon the rights of a certain group of individuals. Straight up hypocrisy (assuming that you actually comprehend the contradiction) and 2. No one who holds Christ in their heart could possibly filled with such hatred. So I don't believe you when you say you are Christian.

    I don't care if you want to hate on gays, but at least have the courage to stop hiding behind your hypocrisy.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
  9. kaligaclark

    There is NO legal reason for marriage equality, and I have yet to hear one!!! The ONLY argument is a religious argument and that religious argument is the sam as those against interracial couples.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:42 am | Report abuse |
    • Chris

      To kaligaclark:

      Huh? Did you just say there is "NO legal reason" in the same sentence as equality? Surely you must be joking...

      May 31, 2012 at 12:26 pm | Report abuse |
  10. KelKel

    @barbarabarham It's a joke! I think it's funny...and it shows how we have already redefined marriage in the past.

    @Better Think Twice...uh. Sure. So absolute that half of all marriages end in divorce. Good one! Get over it. Letting gay people marry won't hurt you in any way.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  11. Patrick

    Marriage is Absolute..................between two consenting adults !!!!!!!!

    May 31, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  12. Alex

    @barbarabarham and too bad you were born without the trait that picks up on sarcasm.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  13. MaryM

    Its about time.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:43 am | Report abuse |
  14. Megan

    M, it makes more sense to qualify what's LEGAL and what's ILLEGAL by that standard, yes. Much more sense than it makes to base it on a text written thousands of years ago that supposedly states an invisible God's "words" that were written by flawed men with their own agenda. You're not saying we should have slavery again, right? I mean, that's in the Bible... so it must be ok!!!

    May 31, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
    • TXnBud

      I guess the common sense concept of "man+woman=baby=continuation of society" doesn't factor into the short term or long term plans of the gay person, either. Without understanding this concept, blood lines and ancestry wouldn't have even been passed down through generations. Great job, Boston.
      No, religious people don't control anything, nor did they ever...they just spoke common sense as to what happens to a civilization if they were all gay...eventually, they would die out. I mean, who wants to contribute to the demise of a society by not having babies?
      Conversely, there's no better way to build a society than by breeding...and breeding....which is what people are doing as they get here from other countries like Mexico and the Middle East....pretty soon all of the selfish lesbians and gays will see how the population of people who are not gay start to establish themselves while people who are gay continue to somehow 'mysteriously' decrease in numbers.
      BTW, I have a gay relative that I love and that I say the exact same thing to so there is no anger or bias here...just common sense.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Shadowflash1522

      I suppose I should be offended that you think I'm somehow failing society by not breeding a thousand midget copies of myself...I'll just start up the cloning vats, shall I?

      Levity aside, it takes a lot more than popping out a few kids to build society. Look at all the teenagers having babies who grow up unwanted and neglected, later to become criminals and losers. Are they "building society"? As opposed to a nice, well educated gay couple who adopts those kids and raises them to become respectful citizens? Have they not built society? For someone who claims to be looking out for the survival of the species, your comment is remarkably shortsighted.

      Last point: the number of gay people is not "mysteriously decreasing". Gay people are not the source of more gay people because, as you so astutely pointed out, gay people cannot reproduce. Gay people are regularly produced by straight people, and I think you'll find that their numbers (as a precentage of the total population) are actually pretty static.

      May 31, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Billy

    States have rights but no the majority in the US congress as far as our Tax money goes.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:44 am | Report abuse |
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