MA federal appeals court rules DOMA unconstitutional

Massachusetts federal appeals court ruled DOMA unconstitutional today, setting the stage for the U.S. Supreme Court to hear a case on same-sex marriage for the first time since Massachusetts was the first state to make it legal 9 years ago.

The state’s attorney general Martha Coakley praised the ruling in a statement:

Today’s landmark ruling makes clear once again that DOMA is a discriminatory law for which there is no justification. 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.

Appeals Court Judge Michael Boudin wrote the unanimous decision for a three-judge panel, stating:

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,’’ he wrote. “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.

Under current Supreme Court authority, Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.

To conclude many Americans believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and most Americans live in states where that is the law today. One virtue of federalism is that it permits this diversity of governance based on local choice, but this applies as well to the states that have chosen to legalize same-sex marriage.

Boudin is essentially saying that if DOMA were left as is, the discrimination against gay couples already legally married in the state would not stand up to the court’s scrutiny.  The DOMA defenders have not presented an argument to the court with any sufficient justification for a law that essentially denies federal benefits to gay and lesbian couples simply because they are gay.

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