MA judge rules DOMA unconstitutional!

Awesome! Judge Joseph Tauro has ruled, in both Massachusetts cases that were challenging the Federal Defense of Marriage Act, that section 3 of DOMA (which defines marriage) is unconstitutional.

There's a good summary of the cases and the outcomes at One case applies only to MA; the other applies only to the couple who brought the suit. But the ripples are likely to be big.

And though I haven't read them in full yet, summaries in various news articles suggest that Judge Tauro's rulings are everything we could have hoped for. For example, from Gill:

In the wake of DOMA, it is only sexual orientation that differentiates a married couple entitled to federal marriage-based benefits from one not so entitled. And this court can conceive of no way in which such a difference might be relevant to the provision of the benefits at issue.


[E]ven if Congress believed at the time of DOMA's passage that children had the best chance at success if raised jointly by their biological mothers and fathers, a desire to encourage heterosexual couples to procreate and rear their own children more responsibly would not provide a rational basis for denying federal recognition to same-sex marriages. Such denial does nothing to promote stability in heterosexual parenting.


Congress undertook this classification for the one purpose that lies entirely outside of legislative bounds, to disadvantage a group of which it disapproves. And such a classification, the Constitution clearly will not permit.

Go, Judge Tauro!

So what happens next? From the 365gay article:

However, it is expected that the federal government will appeal and ask for a stay Friday, meaning that things will stay as they were before the ruling: no federal recognition of gay marriages yet. The cases are likely to keep moving through the courts in tandem.

If the plaintiffs (the gay side) for EITHER case win in the First Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston, then it is very likely that section 3 of DOMA will be struck down for the entire district: Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Maine, Rhode Island and Puerto Rico. This would mean that married couples in New Hampshire would also have their marriages recognized by the federal government.

You can read the full rulings online, as PDFs: Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management et al. and Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. US Dept. Health and Human Services.

The New York Times has an article containing some analysis by legal experts (end of p. 1 and beginning of p. 2). However, note that the article makes a very misleading statement about what'll happen if these opinions are upheld by the US Supreme Court. If that happens, then the Federal gov't will be forced to recognize same-sex marriages in states where they're legal; I see no indication (except in that Times article, and I think it's wrong) that these opinions would legalize same-sex marriage in other states.

So, in particular, these rulings will have no direct effect on the question of Prop. 8. Still, dismantling even part of DOMA would be a big victory in my book.

(I would love it if Congress were to repeal DOMA before this case could make it to the Supreme Court. It's not inconceivable. But I wouldn't want to count on it.)

3 Responses to “MA judge rules DOMA unconstitutional!”

  1. Janis

    This is some of the best news I had heard all week!

  2. Michael

    I see no indication (except in that Times article, and I think it’s wrong) that these opinions would legalize same-sex marriage in other states.

    Scenarios (arbitrarily picking Alabama):
    1. Alabama must allow same-sex couples to marry in Alabama.
    2. Alabama must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in Massachusetts as marriages.
    3. The federal government must recognize same-sex marriages legally performed in Massachusetts as marriages, even if the married couple is in Alabama.

    Only the third scenario would be impacted by striking down DOMA section 3. The second scenario would be impacted by striking down DOMA section 2 — that section is the only reason that Alabama is allowed to ignore the full faith and credit clause. The first scenario requires a Loving v Virginia sort of decision, not just a repeal of DOMA.

    But any of these three scenarios probably seems like some amount of “legalizing same-sex marriage in Alabama” compared to today.

    The third scenario is a reversal of today’s world, where a couple can be considered married by the state government but not by the federal government.

    • Jed

      Yep, I agree with everything you say here. But the Times article says this:

      “If the rulings find their way to the Supreme Court and are upheld there, they will put same-sex marriage within the constitutional realm of protection, just as interracial marriage has been for decades.”

      I suppose one could argue that that statement is, if you read it in a particular way and interpret the term “constitutional realm of protection” in a particular way, literally true. But it’s very misleading; it suggests that if these rulings were upheld by the Supremes, same-sex marriage would become something that states can’t take away, which isn’t true at all.


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