Federal Court Rules DOMA Unconstitutional

Good news from Massachusetts! The Federal District Court has ruled in two related lawsuits that the provision of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act that precludes federal recognition of valid state same-sex marriages is unconstitutional. One lawsuit was brought by the state of Massachusetts, involving the state’s classifications of couples for benefits purposes, and the other was brought by couples who wanted to obtain some of the federal benefits conferred on married couples. It is most likely that the administration will appeal the decision (even though Obama says he wants DOMA to be repealed) and so the case will make its way through the circuit court of appeals and then, quite possibly, the United State Supreme Court.

Meanwhile, the federal rules will almost certainly remain unchanged while the case is being appealed. And so, it will be several years before we see any real change here. And, it is not at all certain that the trial court’s decision will be upheld on appeal. But still, the decision is of great importance. It shows that at least one judge has concluded that DOMA is unconstitutional — as an improper interference by the federal government into a realm (marriage law) that has traditionally been left to the states. And, it gives greater legal weight to the political efforts to repeal DOMA in Congress. In fact, my hunch is that Congress will repeal DOMA before a final court decision is ever issued — so we may never know what the Supreme Court would have to say about this issue.

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