Appeals Court Rejects Key Provisions of DOMA

By Sarah Birnbaum

DOMA plaintiffs
Gay & Lesbian Defenders & Allies at the DOMA arguments. (Mainframe Photographics Inc. & Infinity Portrait Design 2012 for GLAD)

May 31, 2012

STATE HOUSE, BOSTON — In a landmark decision, on May 31 a Boston federal appeals court declared the heart of the Defense of Marriage Act, called DOMA, unconstitutional. The 1996 law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeals in Boston ruled unanimously that the law unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex couples. 

The panel included two Republican appointees. It is the first time a federal appeals court has struck down parts of DOMA.

Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office filed the suit, hailed the decision, saying DOMA damaged Massachusetts families everyday.

“We’re aware of veterans who would not be able to be buried in a veterans cemetery with their loved one, their married partner. They are married under Massachusetts law. But for purposes of federal law they would not be considered married and not be able to be buried together," she said, citing also couples who have not had access to health care, Social Security and other survivor benefits.

Mary Bonauto, the lead attorney for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders, said the ruling affirmed the constitutional rights of the 17 plaintiffs. "Having worked with these seventeen people for these many years now, and knowing these many burdens DOMA imposes on them, I am thrilled," she said. "And I’m thrilled in part because the court couldn’t be clearer that a big part of its ruling is that these plaintiffs have the right to secure equal protection of the law on the same terms as others. That is the promise of America, and that is the foundation of this decision."
The court did not rule on a more politically explosive provision of DOMA, which says that states without same-sex marriage do not have to recognize same-sex unions performed in states such as Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal. Nevertheless, Coakley called the ruling a big deal, saying, "This is a great day for Massachusetts for civil rights and for all same-sex couples in Massachusetts who are married or who will be.”

But Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute said liberal states such as Massachusetts are trying to define marriage for the nation: "This court has the audacity to hold the federal government hostage and demand the government recognize Massachusetts’ radical social experiment and bestow its benefits upon it."

The ruling is now expected to wind up before the Supreme Court. Mineau said he was confident the court will see the "eternal logic" of defining marriage as between a man and a woman.

> > READ: Legal documents from the case

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