Judge rules part of federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional

In two cases that could affect married same-sex couples in Iowa, federal Judge Joseph Tauro ruled Section 3 of the federal Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional today, Lisa Keen reported for Bay Windows. Regarding Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Health and Human Services,

Maura T. Healey, chief of the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Civil Rights Division, told Judge Tauro that Section 3 of DOMA — the section that limits the definition of marriage for federal benefits to straight couples — violates the state’s right under the federal constitution to sovereign authority to define and regulate the marital status of its residents. Healey called DOMA an “animus-based national marriage law” that intrudes on core state authority and “forces the state to discriminate against its own citizens.”

Christopher Hall, representing HHS, said Congress should be able to control the meaning of terms, such as “marriage,” used in its own statutes, and should be able to control how federal money is allocated for federal benefits provided to persons based on their marital status. Tauro essentially replied that the government’s power is not unlimited.

The other case was Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, brought by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders (GLAD):

GLAD attorney Mary Bonauto told Tauro that DOMA constitutes a “classic equal protection” violation, by taking one class of married people in Massachusetts and dividing it into two. One class, she noted, gets federal benefits, the other does not. Just as the federal government cannot take the word “person” and say it means only Caucasians or only women, said Bonauto, it should not be able to take the word “marriage” and say it means only heterosexual couples. Bonauto said the government has no reason to withhold the more than 1,000 federal benefits of marriage from same-sex couples, and noted that a House Judiciary Committee report “explicitly stated the purpose of DOMA was to express moral disapproval of homosexuality.”

Keen notes that the plaintiffs in both cases asked the judge to apply a strict scrutiny standard, which “requires the government to come up with a fairly significant reason for treating gay couples differently under the law.” Judge Tauro found that Section 3 of DOMA fails even a “rational basis” standard, which is easier for the government to satisfy.

If today’s rulings are upheld by the First Circuit U.S. Appeals court or the U.S. Supreme Court, hundreds of Iowa couples married since April 2009 may be able to receive federal benefits.

UPDATE: Andrew Cohen, CBS News Radio Chief Legal Analyst and Legal Editor, is going through the rulings. He notes Judge Tauro held that Congress has no interest in uniform definition of marriage rights and that the federal government should have left marriage policy to the states. In addition, the judge determined that “facts upon which DOMA was based [are] now obsolete or at least overshadowed by more recent science on same-sex marriage-childrearing.”

SECOND UPDATE: Speaking of marriage equality, NBC has opened up a wedding contest to same-sex couples. Initially only heterosexual couples were eligible to enter.

THIRD UPDATE: The Constitutional Law Prof blog summarized Judge Tauro’s legal reasoning and posted links to pdf files of both rulings.

FOURTH UPDATE: Adam Bink discusses the debate in LGBT circles on whether it would be better or worse for the U.S. Department of Justice to appeal this ruling.

Continue Reading...
View More...