Massachusetts Judge Declares DOMA Unconstitutional

by Susan Brinkmann, OCDS
Staff Journalist

A federal district court judge in Boston ruled yesterday that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman is unconstitutional because it violates the rights of same-sex couples and interferes with state’s rights to set their own marriage law.

The Boston Globe is reporting that Judge Joseph L. Tauro claims he drew on the nation’s long history of allowing states to set their own marriage laws, which has been a precedent since before the American Revolution.

“This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status,” Tauro wrote. “The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state.”

Tauro said states have always considered marriage laws to be such an “essential element of state power” that the subject was even broached at the time of the framing of the Constitution.

The judge also compared today’s battle over same-sex marriage to be similar to the controversy that once swirled around interracial marriages.

“But even as the debate concerning interracial marriage waxed and waned throughout history, the federal government consistently yielded to marital status determinations established by the states,” Tauro wrote. “That says something. And this court is convinced that the federal government’s long history of acquiescence in this arena indicates that, indeed, the federal government traditionally regarded marital status determinations as the exclusive province of state government.”

Gay rights activists cheered the ruling, saying it affirmed that same-sex couples are entitled to the same federal spousal benefits and protections as other married couples.

The Boston-based group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, which brought the suit on behalf of seven married same-sex couples and three widowers in March 2009, hailed the decision.

“Today the court simply affirmed that our country won’t tolerate second-class marriages,” said Mary Bonauto, a lawyer from the group who argued successfully in the 2003 Supreme Judicial Court case that first legalized same-sex marriage in Massachusetts. “This ruling will make a real difference for countless families in Massachusetts.”

Opponents are calling this another example of the imposition of  same-sex marriage by the courts because the will of the people consistently sides with traditional marriage.

“Same-sex marriage activists have tried time and time again to win public approval of their agenda, and they have failed each time,” said Kris Mineau, president of the Massachusetts Family Institute.  “This is why their strategy is to force same-sex ‘marriage’ through judicial fiat, as they did here in Massachusetts and other states.”

He added: “Americans overwhelmingly believe marriage to be the union of one man and one woman. Just two days ago the Governor of Hawaii vetoed a bill that would have redefined marriage through civil unions, upholding the will of the people of her state. Forty-five states have laws supporting traditional marriage, with thirty of thirty having affirmed traditional marriage in their state constitutions.”

Mineau expressed confidence that DOMA will withstand this challenge just as it has many others. “I am confident that an appeals court, and ultimately the Supreme Court, will uphold the government’s right to define marriage, strengthening and protecting children and families,” he said.
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