Boston court of appeals finds DOMA unconstitutional

By David Ferguson
Thursday, May 31, 2012 11:13 EDT
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A federal appeals court in Boston has found that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, according to the Associated Press.

Today’s ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston upheld a 2010 ruling by a lower court judge who said that by defining marriage as being between one man and one woman, DOMA discriminates against same sex couples, and that a federal mandate on the definition of marriage unlawfully compromises the states’ right to define marriage. Also, the law prevents married same sex couples from enjoying the benefits of filing a joint federal income tax return.

The ruling says, “DOMA does not formally invalidate same-sex marriages in states that permit them, but its adverse consequences for such a choice are considerable. Notably, it prevents same-sex married couples from filing joint federal tax returns, which can lessen tax burdens, see 26 U.S.C. § 1(a)-(c), and prevents the surviving spouse of a same-sex marriage from collecting Social Security survivor benefits, e.g., 42 U.S.C. § 402(f), (i). DOMA also leaves federal employees unable to share their health insurance and certain other medical benefits with same-sex spouses.”

The court declined to rule on DOMA’s other provision, which granted states the right to deny marriage benefits to same sex couples who were married in other states. The law was originally passed in 1996 when it appeared that Hawaii would legalize same sex marriage.

Last week, a California judge ruled that DOMA and sections of the California tax code are discriminatory and therefore unconstitutional.  In that ruling, U.S. District Court Judge Claudia Wilken asserted that by preventing same sex couples from participating in California’s long-term care plan for public workers, DOMA and the relevant tax statutes violate the state’s equal protection clause.

Think Progress reports that the judges ruling in the Boston case, Judges Juan Torruella and Michael Boudin are both Republican appointees.  Boudin, who authored the ruling, is particularly well-regarded nationally and has sent multiple former law clerks on to work for the Supreme Court.

(image by Fritz Leiss via Flickr Commons)

David Ferguson
David Ferguson
David Ferguson is an editor at Raw Story. He was previously writer and radio producer in Athens, Georgia, hosting two shows for Georgia Public Broadcasting and blogging at Firedoglake.com and elsewhere. He is currently working on a book.
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