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The Legal Walls Are Closing In on DOMA Bigots

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Advocates for the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) took a hit today, when the First District Court ruled that section 3 of DOMA is unconstitutional under the equality clause. More specifically, the court ruled that denying same sex married couples the benefits that heterosexual married couples receive is unconstitutional.

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The court’s opinion in Gill et al v OFFICE OF PERSONNEL MANAGEMENT, ET AL.,  is summarized on pages 18 and 19 of the ruling.

 As for burden, the combined effect of DOMA’s restrictions on federal benefits will not prevent same-sex marriage where permitted under state law; but it will penalize those couples by limiting tax and social security benefits to opposite-sex couples in their own and all other states. For those married same-sex couples of which one partner is in federal service, the other cannot take advantage of medical care and other benefits available to opposite-sex partners in Massachusetts and everywhere else in the country.

. . .   Accordingly, we conclude that the extreme deference accorded to ordinary economic legislation in cases like Lee Optical would not be extended to DOMA by the Supreme Court; and without insisting on “compelling” or “important” justifications or “narrow tailoring,” the Court would scrutinize with care the purported bases for the legislation. Before providing such scrutiny, a separate element absent in Moreno, City of Cleburne, and Romer–federalism–must be considered.

The unanimous ruling was silent on the question of whether states that have not recognized same sex marriage should be compelled to do so. However, the court did make some interesting observations on page 20 of the ruling

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 In our view, neither the Tenth Amendment nor the Spending Clause invalidates DOMA; but Supreme Court precedent relating to federalism-based challenges to federal laws reinforce the need for closer than usual scrutiny of DOMA’s justifications and diminish somewhat the deference ordinarily accorded.

Conversely, the court also cited the Supreme Court on the question of regulating domestic relations.

 ”[t]he whole subject of the domestic relations of husband and wife, parent and child, belongs to the laws of the States and not to the laws of the United States.”

Ulimately, DOMA will be considered by the Supreme Court.  For now, this ruling is an important step forward for civil rights.  Goodness, with all the steps backward we have seen, this ruling is a ray of sunshine.

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