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. Food for thought

    It all comes down to this, people who believe that marriage is defined as one man and one woman will try to defend the definition of marriage. It is our belief, and/or we feel it somehow changes what marriage is and threatens us both spiritually and some how changes our relationship with our spouse. Those of us who don't feel that marriage should be defined this way will argue for equal rights. Where do we draw the line? Or do we? What about polygamy, or marriage to a child or animal? Would that be ok because it is what the individual desires? It is a slippery slope and we should proceed with caution. I don't know how you can say gay marriage is ok and be against polygamy or some other unusual relationships.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
    • socialkombat

      These arguments are not persuasive and no more than a sensationalistic distraction from the real issue. Gay marriage is about what straight marriage is about: the ability of two willing and consenting adults to form a legal union in the eyes of the state. Polygamy, incest, and bestiality are necessarily well outside the definition due to the inherent coercion, inequality, and inability of one party to give true consent.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • xabana

      That was more like junk food for thought. What about 2 consenting adults wanting to get married confuses you? No one asked Britney Spears how long she knew her husband, how much she loved him, whether they were going to have kids, etc., when they got hitched in Vegas. Also, your religious/moral beliefs have no import. This is a state issue and not a religious or moral one. No one is harmed by two men or two women being married. As long as there is no harm, the state should permit and it should be recognized on the federal level.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Joe

      How exactly does gay marriage threaten your relationship with your spouse?

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

      Marriage to a child or animal is a ridiculous analogy. No informed consent can be established in either relationship, so of course there can be no marriage. Polygamy is an apt analogy. In truth, there is no reason why people should not be able to form legal relationships with multiple partners as long as informed consent is preserved. My only problem with polygamy is its tendency to exploit young girls who, due to age or social pressure, lack the capacity to make an independent judgment and thus lack informed consent.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • jaintn

      I don't care if someone wants multiple spouses. I think they're nuts, because one is most definitely enough for me, but when you start throwing inter-species crud into the mix you reveal yourself to be a bigot. If two consenting adults want to be married, so freakin' what? How on earth will that affect what goes on in your home with your own family. If you want to raise children to be just as judgmental and bigoted as you are, that's fine, but to deny millions of people the sames rights and happiness you or I enjoy is bigotry, pure and simple, and quite quite ugly. I honestly pity the Christians who use the bible as an excuse for their judgment and hatred of gay people, because they are not honoring Christ and not behaving as true Christians, and don't even get me started on the fact that NOTHING in any religion has ever been proven, so as far as I'm concerned they are making a conscious choice to be cruel and judgmental and if they believe in any kind of reckoning at the end of their lives, they WILL be in trouble.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
    • aUNT cRIT

      very simple to draw the line. I'm not sure WHY this is such an issue for everyone. If CONSENTING adults want to marry- it should be so. PERIOD. No- I do not see a problem with polygamy either, so long as they are ALL consenting adults. why is that an issue? if they are not on welfare or creating children they can't afford- then what's the problem? a child could not marry, because it is NOT a consentual adult. and animals? really? that is quite a stretch. can my dog rent a car? no- that is ignorant. until animals can actually SIGN a contract & GIVE consent- I don't see why folks keep suggesting such a thing?!!

      May 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • WASP

      @FFT: seeing no law can be based on any religion doctrine in america, supporting nor banning it, the only avenue our secular government has is to base their decisions on "if it descriminates on one persons rights over another". religious folks may disagree with the eventual legalizing of same gender marriage, that doesn't take anything away from them as being an opposite gender marriage, it adds an equality to all americans. no court would ever allow a religious nutt to marry his cow or allow the marriage of a child to and adult; that is why marriage is controlled by the government and not any religious organization. it would be a simple matter of writing the marriage law simply to state " marriage is a binding contract between two of legal age (meaning 18 years of age or older) consenting adults". that would permit same gender marriage without taking anything awy from opposite gender couples; plus churches which have no marrying power to begin with, wouldn't have to marry a same gender couple if they so choose not to.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • don

      The difference is gay marriage is between two consenting adults. If I wanted to marry a horse, the horse would have to give consent by law. As it currently stands, horse's are unable to give consent as recognized by any court so far as I know. I am sure there is a lobbyist out there that will seize this oppotunity to represent Horses on Capitol Hill providing the Horses are willing to pay for a lobbyist's services. Children legally are not able to give consent as it relates to marriage. Different states have different ages at which a person can give consent to legally marry. I agree with the Polygamy argument however, if someone chooses to engage in that type of insanity, by all means.. state law should not prohibit it providing all persons are consenting and its established that no ones Rights will be violated.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Ami

      How does gay marriage threaten your marriage? Perhaps you should get your personal life together and take responsibility instead of trying to blame others for your bad marriage. Also, as far as polygamy, as long as it's consensual, I could care less. But when you people try to compare marriage with children and animals as the next logical step after gay marriage, you just make yourself look like fools. Children are too young to legally do a lot of things, marriage would be one. Animals are unable to consent to marriage. Plus, it's just an idiotic argument.

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

      Strangely, this is the exact same argument that people used to protest against interracial marriages. The slippery slope argument is a fallacy for a reason. (And, just so we know what we're talking about, 'traditional' marriage was, indeed, very often between a man and multiple wives. And that was shown as completely acceptable in the Bible. See: David, a man after God's own heart. Or Solomon the wise. I'm not sure how you can recite the bible to prevent me from getting married in a government that is most assuredly not religious based and then ignore the sections which show quite clearly that the authors of the bible agreed with a definition of marriage you no longer espouse.)

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

      Some states allow cousin on cousin marriage. Is that ok too? I'm for gay marriage, but I'm also for a multiple husband or wife situation as well. I draw the line where it infringes on the happiness of another person and tells another person whom they can be happy with. The idea that people will want to marry their animals next is a pretty far fetched and sensationalist comment. It is an ad hoc ergo propter hoc argument that is really beyond the scope of what we're discussion.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:36 pm | Report abuse |
  2. Billy

    HE is the trash, and his co-horts.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:45 am | Report abuse |
  3. JP Johnson

    Banning gay marriage for religious reasons is like banning doughnuts because you're on a diet. Everyone should mind their own business and stay out of other people's. Let's celebrate a little for civil rights.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  4. Jakey

    "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."

    Oh come on. If this is the only response to an accusation that anti-gay sentiment is behind DOMA, then all it does is prove that the accusation is right. It's a total falsehood that marriage as we know it is a centuries-long tradition of Western civilization, unless you ignore every single particular except the "one man and one woman" part...and that's a lot to ignore. Anyone who would ignore (or not bother to find out) that marriage has been a pure business arrangement, that it hasn't always been a religious ritual, etc. can't be remotely as interested in the tradition of marriage as they are in keeping down gay people. There's just no other rational explanation.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  5. Dnightshade

    I live in Boston. This is wonderful news. <3 I'm glad to live in such a forward thinking city.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:46 am | Report abuse |
  6. Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

    Defense of Marriage Act is a classic first ammendment violation. It's a law based soley on the Bible and nothing else. Nobody can give me a valid argument besides "the Bible says it" to even come close to justifying it. Last time I checked, you can't base laws soley on the Bible. It's a little thing I like to call religious freedom. Thank you Boston court of appeals for upholding the Consti-tution!

    May 31, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  7. pat

    If a person is old enough to sign a contract then that person should be able to enter into a contract with anyone else who is also old enough to sign a contract, regardless of gender.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:47 am | Report abuse |
  8. TPN51

    With all the unrest within all religions today, statements from idealistic and uneducated pastors, governments and the demands of the Catholic church will only further the demise of faith and confidence in our political system. Only when we begin to treat each other as human beings and respect their individuality will we be able to grow once again. STOP THE HATE , STOP THE BIGOTRY, TEACH INSTEAD OF PREACH.

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

      Without somebody above to hold us responsible, later, WHY!

      May 31, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  9. Bob

    Stupid activist judges. (sarcasm, you know that's what wing nuts will say)

    May 31, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  10. BostonBeeb

    I feel as though I should be jumping up and down – but all I can say is, "Good." Because this is exactly what should have been decided. Marriage equality is going to happen nationally. Maybe not today or even a year from now... but it will ~ and it should.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
    • dashikirona

      Why. so you can drive more nails into the coffin of insanity?

      May 31, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
    • dashikirona

      excuse me...I meant so you can drive more nails into the coffin of SANITY???

      May 31, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
  11. Christine

    Excellent ruling! Too bad for the bigots of are a dying breed and you can take your unintelligent, biased opinion to your grave with you – or to North Carolina – same difference.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:48 am | Report abuse |
  12. Better Think Twice

    ........and so the carnage comments begin...

    May 31, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  13. Rick

    This and all laws and amendments discriminating against gays and lesbians need to be overturned. Matters of civil rights cannot be left to the whims of voters.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:49 am | Report abuse |
  14. Cathy L Kennedy

    It is right thing to do. You don't have have to like it or accept it. Perhaps some don't approve of youe own marriage, no matter what the reason, however, you married anyway, they must live with your choice to do so!

    May 31, 2012 at 11:50 am | Report abuse |
  15. pat

    I guess religious people don't control everything after all. Amen.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11