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. Clear and Present Thinker

    No other ruling would hold up on appeal.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  2. TAK

    So the court overturned DOMA using a states rights argument? I love it. Conservatives' heads must be exploding right now.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:56 am | Report abuse |
  3. joshua

    see dr owour a prophet among us. read deuteronomy 18 & st marks 16 for confirmation.

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

      Nice little novel you quote

      May 31, 2012 at 12:05 pm | Report abuse |
  4. Cheyla

    Religion is and always has been the greatest threat to our secular government. At least there is one small group of people who have been somewhat saved from religious hatred and bigotry.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:57 am | Report abuse |
  5. Imprisoned in america

    once again, the unpopular few must overpower the will of the people.

    May 31, 2012 at 11:58 am | Report abuse |
  6. JCMars

    Gay marriage is about money not love, folks.

    Where are all the liberal cries about activist judges like there was on the decision a few weeks ago?

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

      Gay marriage is about money not love, folks.

      Where are all the liberal cries about activist judges like there was on the decision a few weeks ago?"

      So what you're saying is that it's exactly the same as "traditional" marriage, especially according to your bible.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
  7. Ben

    The Bible hardly invented marriage. It had historically been a tool to combine property through contract, and daughters were little more than a commodity. Society evolves. The Bible was never about "one" and "one". Polygamy was the norm in the Bible. You also had to marry your rapist.
    If you want to use religion to define marriage, give up any legal benefits from being married. Otherwise, realize this is the law, not your church.

    May 31, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  8. Smeagel4T

    Another victory for religious freedom. It's time to bring an end to right wing fundamentalists trying to impose their religions upon people with differing beliefs. If a Christian or any other church wants to marry LGBT couples, right wing fundamentalists do not have the right to deny them their religious freedoms.

    May 31, 2012 at 12:00 pm | Report abuse |
  9. srichey321

    So a group of people that have jobs, pay taxes can finally get some of the benefit. Life is getting more uncomfortable for the haters.

    May 31, 2012 at 12:01 pm | Report abuse |
  10. James

    So with this logic and ruling, we can legalize polygamy because it is wanted by many and those that dont want it cant oppose it anymore!! YAY!!!! Multiple wives and husbands for all!!! You cant speak against it, you voted for this guy and said you will do anything he says or wants because of color, not because of your beliefs. If he says polygamy is ok, but your religion doesnt, then your religion will change, right? Thats what is going on today. All the churches that are predominatly of his color spoke against gay marriage for years, even up to a couple months ago in North Carolina. He came out, said he is changing his view, now all those same churches changed there beliefs. How can you believe in a religion that is strictly against something but when one man said something, obviously and totally politically motivated to gain some votes in an election year, you change your entire belief system. Sorry, folks, but its obvious that this country has a problem with color of skin, and it its no longer white people with the issue.

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

      Obama didn't appeal it. What does he have to do with this?

      I would have no problem with a man having several wives. If they are all consenting and can figure out a way to make it work in a legal sense in situations of divorce and the like. Divorce proceedings are tricky enough but adding more than two people to the mix, might get a tad bit complicated.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:07 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jess121

      Actually James, the Bible is all about polygamy (and incest...scary what you learn when you actually read the book yourself)). Most of the prophets had multiple wives and concubines so Christians really should support allowing polygamy.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:14 pm | Report abuse |
    • Aaron

      Or you could just not be a fool and try using that gray matter located at the top of your body. Polygamy isn't acceptable from a legal standpoint because it would be an invalidation of an existing contract. Marriage in a legal sense is a contract of exclusivity and joint ownership of property. What's mine is your and vice versa. Having a second wife or husband would INVALIDATE that exclusivity and create multiple ownerships of the same property. What's mine is yours...and theirs? Doesn't work without additional contracts to further redefine relationships and clarify conflicts of interest. For example, power of attorney is automatically confered to a spouse but if you have multiple spouses they all hold valid claim to be executor and this creates a conflict.

      Ergo, in the interest of legal clarity polygamy is not permissible within a modern civil society where all people are equal as having polygamy would by necessity create a "second class" situation for the non-primary agent.

      Look, I was able to refute your absurdity without once having to look in a religious book. LOGIC WORKS!!!!

      May 31, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
    • travis mcarthur

      A) Your last sentence is correct, except I would add the word "just" in there somewhere. Everyone has prejudicial tendencies. It matters how you handle them. You are handling them poorly.

      The rest of your post is a bizarre rant. Obama has very little to do with a judge's ruling. It's called separation of powers. There's the judicial branch, the executive branch and the legislative branch. The judicial branch can overrule executive and legislative rulings. It's a special thing that the founding fathers came up with.

      Continuing on...What does polygamy have to do with anything? This is what's called a false equivalency. You've introduced a red herring and it smells. The only thing wrong with polygamy is that in polygamous societies where only men are allowed to have multiple spouses women tend to be subjugated. This is a huge deal, of course, but I sincerely doubt this is why you seem to oppose it. Also, before you say it, the difference between gay marriage and bestiality is that animals do not have the capacity to consent. If you can invent a fully sentient dog we can explore this topic more fully.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Solitaire

      Women who want to have multiple husbands will have to fight their own fight in the courts. This is about law that specifically and directly discriminates against gays.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:49 pm | Report abuse |
  11. m

    Great... let the individual states decide how backward they want to be. That's progress!

    May 31, 2012 at 12:02 pm | Report abuse |
  12. Darw1n

    Justice prevails. Obama/Biden 2012

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

      In this life....

      May 31, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
  13. Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

    To people who say "I don't care if they get married as long as they don't call it marriage." Do you realize how stupid and bigoted that argument sounds? It's like saying "Black people can have water too. Just as long as they don't drink from a white person's water fountain."

    May 31, 2012 at 12:03 pm | Report abuse |
    • Darw1n


      May 31, 2012 at 12:08 pm | Report abuse |
    • NotBuyingIt

      Pretty much nailed it.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:16 pm | Report abuse |
  14. Mike

    Marriage is between one man and one woman, no matter what the courts say. You can call something else marriage, but it is not.

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

      Mike: Why do think you get to define marriage for MY church?

      May 31, 2012 at 12:06 pm | Report abuse |
    • Domikin

      And marriage is until death do you part as well, not until a spouse cheats...

      You can't have your cake and eat it too.

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

      For you, maybe. Not everyone follows your religion, and your religion does not own the concept of marriage.

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

      Well, that's sort of a good point. Marriage is what it is no matter what the law says. So what if we had the law be fair to everyone regardless of anyone's religious beliefs, and then those of us who think some marriages are invalid can go right on thinking that without it preventing other people from living their lives?

      May 31, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • popedm

      No one cares what you call it Mike, just don;t try to impose your beliefs on other people!

      May 31, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • Jacques Strappe, World Famous French Ball Juggler

      Don't be a sore loser Mike.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Report abuse |
    • yankeesfan

      2 adults who love each other and take vows to spend the rest of their lives together – it's a marriage, I don't care what you call it

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

      Mike, Why do you believe you have the right to make that decision for everyone?

      May 31, 2012 at 12:13 pm | Report abuse |
    • kenny of salt

      In songwriting, the relationship between the melody and the lyrics is called a marriage. J. T. Showcross spoke of "the marriage of painging and poetry." When I was stringing fence with my dad, he used to tell me to "marry up the wires." Should I go back to the farm and tear those fences down?
      It's just a word, cousin...

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

      The beauty of this country is that your Church can define Marriage in any way they see fit. They can say you must be a man and a woman, you must be 21, you must have never been divorced – any way they see fit. But for the state to make a determination based on a church belief is really anti American. Allowing Gay Marriage changes nothing about anyones Church practices at all. It simply allows equal Federal and State rights for two people who join in this state sanctioned contract.

      May 31, 2012 at 12:17 pm | Report abuse |
    • Eric

      The exact same argument was used against interracial marriage (a black and a white can get married, but it's not marriage, whatever they call it) 50 years ago and your argument will be viewed in the same fashion 50 years from today.

      May 31, 2012 at 1:50 pm | Report abuse |
  15. zivo24

    Before the rhetoric regurgitators start spewing their usual "activist lliberal judges" rant...

    Here is a piece of information that is missing from the CNN article...

    Two of the three judges who decided the case Thursday were Republican appointees, while the other was a Democratic appointee. Judge Michael Boudin, who wrote the decision, was appointed by President George H.W. Bush, while Judge Juan Torruella was appointed by President Ronald Reagan. Chief Judge Sandra Lynch is an appointee of President Bill Clinton.

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