Thursday, July 8, 2010

Federal gay marriage ban ruled unconstitutional

This just in from the AP:

Federal gay marriage ban is ruled unconstitutional
BOSTON (AP) - The federal law banning gay marriage is unconstitutional because it interferes with the right of a state to define the institution and therefore denies married gay couples some federal benefits, a federal judge ruled Thursday in Boston.

U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled in favor of gay couples' rights in two separate challenges to the Defense of Marriage Act, known as DOMA, a 1996 law that the Obama administration has argued for repealing. The rulings apply to Massachusetts but could have broader implications if they're upheld on appeal.

The state had argued the law denied benefits such as Medicaid to gay married couples in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions have been legal since 2004.


The Justice Department had argued the federal government had the right to set eligibility requirements for federal benefits—including requiring that those benefits go only to couples in marriages between a man and a woman.

Opponents of gay marriage said they were certain the rulings would be overturned on appeal.


The law was enacted by Congress in 1996 when it appeared Hawaii would soon legalize same-sex marriage and opponents worried that other states would be forced to recognize such marriages. The lawsuit challenges only the portion of the law that prevents the federal government from affording pension and other benefits to same-sex couples.

Since then, five states and the District of Columbia have legalized gay marriage.

Boston College professor Kent Greenfield, a constitutional law expert, said the rulings could have a legal impact outside Massachusetts if they're appealed and a higher court with a broader jurisdiction agrees.

An appeal would be considered by the First Circuit, which also includes Rhode Island, Maine and New Hampshire.

"One things that's going to be really interesting to watch is whether the Obama administration appeals or not," he said.

Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler said the department is reviewing the decision.

Greenfield added the rulings might encourage other attorneys generals who oppose DOMA to sue to try to knock it down.

As you can see, I trimmed the article for length's sake - to read the entire thing, click here.

Honestly, I'm not sure what the implications will be. That's something I need to research, and I'm moving this weekend, so time and Internet connection will both be short. If you have any insight, I'm all ears.

As the article states, "The lawsuit challenges only the portion of the law that prevents the federal government from affording pension and other benefits to same-sex couples." For now, I think that's only in Massachusetts. However, this isn't a finished story. There will be a ripple effect.

One the one hand, I'm thrilled to see the courts honoring states' rights. I think that's vital to our republic functioning the way its Founders intended, with each state exercising the freedom to make rules that work for its residents.

On the other hand, this is a blow to the cause of marriage between a man and a woman. Or is it? Honestly, on the face of it, I support equal rights for couples, gay or straight. However, how do you validate that a couple is enough of a couple to access those benefits intended for a spouse? Plenty of straight couples opt to "shack up" without wedding these days - do they have to file paperwork to prove that they're somehow serious enough to merit those benefits? Something equal to a civil union? Wouldn't that defeat the point?

Again, I'm not clear on all the ramifications of this, and I'm all ears for your insight. Meanwhile, keep watching for more news to come down the pipe regarding this ruling.

As for Prop. 8, there's been no ruling since closing arguments were made last month. According to, Judge Walker submitted several questions to attorneys on both sides; the pro-Prop. 8 side's answers can be found here. And, of course, we know that no matter what Walker rules, the case will likely be appealed to the 9th Circuit Court, and from there, it'll head to the Supreme Court. Neither side is going to settle for whatever ruling is handed down.