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. alpg49

    Excellent. We are talking about laws written by The State. The Bible has no standing. Period.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  2. horf

    Great! Hopefully DOMA will go the way of Jim Crow.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
  3. vicky

    Dont mind if Gays and Lesbians are allowed equal rights but lets call their union by another name and not Marriage!- such a union is not marriage in the traditional term. Can someone explain to me why it has to be called marriage. Give it another name!

    May 31, 2012 at 11:51 am | Report abuse |
    • Cedar Rapids

      why shouldnt it be called marriage?

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

      Vicky – it is so that gays and their families can consider themselves just as good as straight families and the government supperts that position now – so for the bigots out their – too bad for you.

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

      Yes, Vicky – what do you suggest since that is such a great idea? Radical America at its finest.

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

      Can you tell me why you think you can tell my church what word to use for its sacraments?

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

      Because it's called "marriage" in the legal books. Really, that's the only reason. The best thing I've been able to come up with is for EVERYONE (gay, straight, etc) to have a civil union in the eyes of the law. If you want to call it a marriage, that's something between you and your church. And with that set up, no one should be arguing that two men being joined somehow "weakens their marriage". I don't care if you call your union a marriage, a relationship or a hutzpah. Whatever. So long as LEGALLY we all share the same rights under the same name.

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

      as much as you would like to believe it, "Marriage" in this country is a legal term, not a religios one. Furthermore, marriage has been around longer than Christianity has. In the USA, marriage is a legally binding contract; a marriage in a church without a legal marriage certificate is not even counted or accepted.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Steve From NH

      You can call it whatever you want, if that makes you feel better. What I call a trunk, English call a boot. It's still a storage compartment at the back of a car.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • Food for thought.....through reality

      Vicky its because how laws(tax and otherwise are written) so marriage is a legal word that must be used.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Deb

      WHY should it be called something else? Should we just abolish the term marriage regardless of who is involved? It's the public affirmation of 2 people commited to each other.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Concerned Citizen

      I dunno, because "separate but equal" isn't? We should have learned that once. I guess it's time to learn it again.

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

      Hi Vicky.

      I would love to talk to you about why it should be called marriage. Before I do that though – why don't you tell everybody why it shouldn't be called marriage?

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

      Totally agree. It should be called another name. It is something else other than marriage!

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

      Well, if it has to be called something else because it's not 'traditional', then it's the same as saying it's 'less than'. That's not ok.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      Blacks can have water too! I just don't want them drinking out of the same fountain as me.

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

      Vicky, let's assume you are a woman given the spelling of your name. What if, suddenly people decided that you would no longer be considered a female because your name has a "k" in it. So that meant you could not see a doctor for any female related issues; if you got pregnant you would not be eligible for any insurance coverage because you have a "k" in your name. Kinda random, isn't it? Kinda unfair, to eliminate you from access to certain privileges just because of a small detail about you. That's why this is important.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Frank Nigliazzo

    I fail to see how allowing two consenting adults who are likely hard wired from birth to prefer the romantic company of another person of the same gender to enjoy the advantages and pitfalls of marriage serves in any way to denigrate my own marriage.

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

    No law should be based on a fictional book of stories. Why not base laws on harry Potter instead of the Bible? Harry Potter makes more sense.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:52 am | Report abuse |
    • alpg49

      I agree that the Bible has no standing here – no more than the Koran, or any other religious text. But I'm a Christian, so I don't think it's the work of pure fantasy you claim it is.

      We have to wear 2 hats (each) one is "deist/athiest" and the other is "citizen". Everyone must wear the "citizen" hat: gay, straight, athiest, whatever...

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

      Best idea I've heard all day 🙂

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

      @BethTX: Best idea I've heard all day 🙂

      May 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  6. lynne

    BIG picture, I see this as a detriment to the gay rights fight. Think about it: this decision reinforces the STATE's right to choose on the issue, meaning that later on it will be that much harder to pass a FEDERAL law allowing gay marriage. At current, there are over 30 states with anti-gay marriage laws on the books – and because of this decision the federal government cannot do anything about it.
    I am all for gay rights, but I do not like the looks of this.

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

    Here come the complain-trains...weeewoooooooooooooweeeewooooo. Stop being mad that we're gonna be able to screw up our lives just as bad as yours. Well, at least we should get the chance. Right?

    May 31, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  8. Andy K

    My wife and I were married in California on June 21st 2008, we have two children and we have been together for 7 years. Because we live in Nevada our Marriage from California is not recognized. We have a domestic partnership in Nevada but it does not grant us all the rights that we would have if our Marriage from California was just acknowledged, DOMA prevents our marriage from California being acknowledged in Nevada. States that do not acknowledge the rights that we should have together as a couple actually prevents us from traveling to them for fear that if something were to happen while we were there that one of us would not be permitted to make decisions on the others behalf. Because of DOMA.
    The faster DOMA is off the books the safer this country will be for families that are just trying to do what most of America is trying to do and that is to live in peace.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
    • Lio

      Andy, that is a great comment. Sad thing is that most people would rather give up the rights you are mentioning here in order keep the right to marry from one group of people. You are able to see at the big picture, thanks, share your words more than just here.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
  9. Jason

    Here. Here. Laws like this are intended to put gay people down.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  10. jqent

    Well! Why did it take so long for the courts to point out the obvious? Now, it's time to go after that ridiculous "corporate personhood" ruling by SCOTUS ... it is obvious that no person lives forever, yet corporations are, by legal definition, "perpetual." Why should an immortal "person" who has unlimited funds and innumerable agents, who cannot be imprisoned for wrongdoing, be permitted to buy the government of all us mere mortals?

    May 31, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  11. Duane

    Good, we are a country of equals- One Nation, One People. Glad to see someone is starting to recognize this

    May 31, 2012 at 11:53 am | Report abuse |
  12. Ben

    @Food For Thought – That is one of the most inane arguments, I assume is repeated without thinking about it. Marriage is a contract. If all parties can be legally bound to a contract, let them marry if they want to. If a dog became sentient and was able to agree to a contract, fine. That's hardly a slippery slope.
    Or are you afraid your next landlord might be a baseball?

    May 31, 2012 at 11:54 am | Report abuse |
    • Legitimacy of Government

      This assumes that you accept that "Marriage" is only an act of government, something I reject out of hand.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
    • lynne

      dear legitimacy,
      actually, in this country, marriage IS only a legal term. Go get married in a church without a marriage license. Guess what? You didn't actually just get married.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
    • Solitaire

      Thanks, Ben, for the chuckle.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  13. Dave in DC

    Guess this will be heading to the Supreme Court, and it should. Put it to rest forever.

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

      I hope the SCOTUS does resolve the matter, but if they do not find for equal rights for all, it will solve nothing because the LGBT community will NEVER stop fighting for their civil rights. Never. And once they succeed, they have accepted the fact that they will have to continue to fight to retain them, just as the black community must do.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Legitimacy of Government

    I have no problem with providing the gay community with legal equality for couples. However; access to the term "marriage" crosses this threshold and starts to encroach on a separate set of beliefs and traditions that merit consideration. The act of marriage predates modern government, governments adopted the term within the legal system. Now that we are crossing this bridge, the government needs to erridicate marriage from its lexicon. This will enable the government to provide the rights required by different types of couples (MF, MM, FF and perhaps in time the list expands further since popular vote is all that counts), and allow those traditional MF couples that see the roots of their relationship in somthing other than the legal system and popular vote maintain their traditions distinct from government intervention.

    Hopefully, the gay community is not so strong as to be able to re-write the bible, koran or other religious traditions.

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

      The religious community has not more right to the term "marriage" as anyone else. Originally, marriage was simply a transfer of property – that property being a woman.

      May 31, 2012 at 11:59 am | Report abuse |
    • Imprisoned in america

      Marriage is a term that has a definition. a soul that burns in hell will have no recourse but to blame those that put the materialistic and lust for sin into a justification for civility.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:04 pm | Report abuse |
    • Primewonk

      What do you call an atheist couple who were wed in city hall?

      I call them married. So does the law. Ergo, your objection is moot. Try coming into the 21st century sometime.

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

      There are thousands of married gay couples. Married in the eyes of the law and married in the church. It's funny how many people like to believe they have stopped it. HA! NO!

      May 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chip

      But I bet you cheered when North Carolina (along with several other states) outlawed ANY legal recognition.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:09 pm | Report abuse |
    • disagree

      But you beg the question....why is your religious or personal belief more important than anothers. Being of the Christian faith myself, I don't understand how I get to dictate someone else's belief structure simply because I believe another way. You believe marriage is one thing based on your faith...they believe it is another based on theirs (or lack their of). How do you get to decide who is infringed upon? Jesus himself certainly would not have acted this way.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  15. Ben23

    This is why we need to throw Obama out. Vote for Mitt Romney is you believe in family values. Obama promotes deviant perverted behavior that goes against American values. Marriage has always been defined as a union between a man and a woman.

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

      Um....this was by the courts not Obama. Try again.

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

      As noted in another comment, marriage was originally a transfer of property......the property in question being a woman. That is the roots of the marriage tradition. I'm sure knuckle-draggers like yourself would love to go back to those good old days.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
    • Laura in the case of King Solomon, a man and 700 women.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Chuck in Jasper, Ga.

      Typical sock puppet. Obama has nothing to do with the court system in Massachusetts.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      And also as between a man and a woman and a woman, and a woman and her deceased husband's brother, and a woman and her rapist, and a man and his slaves, and a soldier and conquests of war, and between a man and his wife's property....

      The very fact that people even marry for love is a redefinition of marriage. The ORIGINAL intent of marriage was to define line of succession through legitimate heirs and ensure continuity of familial property. Marriage was an act of business and negotiation, not love. You paid a dowry to literally bribe someone into marrying your daughter so you could be connected to a more powerful family.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jess121

      Your very comment goes against American Values of Equality and Freedom.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:10 pm | Report abuse |
    • 4sanity

      Except when Mormons, Muslims, Shihks, Hindus, African tribes etc etc have resorted to polygamy. And many more societies including Western religions approved/condoned of 1 wife + many concubines/mistresses. But if you are comfortable with 1 man, 1 woman, then I assume you are also OK with arranged marriages of children. Love doesn't really matter, does it ?

      May 31, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Conserv from NY

      Actually I'm Catholic the first and true Christian religion. We define marriage between a man and a woman only if performed by a Catholic preist. If you get married outside the Catholic church you are not married in God's eyes. in fact you would be living in sin and will have to answer to these sins at the gates of heaven. This is the true definition of mairriage handed down through time in Westerrn Culture.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:15 pm | Report abuse |
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