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Federal appeals court invalidates DOMA

by Brad A. Greenberg

May 31, 2012 | 10:49 am

Photo by Wikipedia/Ligth Mehanist

In related news, the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals ruled this morning that the 1996 federal Defense of Marriage Act violates the Constitution. The decision comes on the heels of two district court judges holding likewise.

The SCOTUSblog recaps:

Thursday’s ruling by the First Circuit marked the first time that a challenge to DOMA had succeeded in a federal appeals court, but the same issue is now pending in the Ninth Circuit Court after two federal judges in California had found Section 3 to be invalid.  The Ninth Circuit Court is also pondering now a request that it reconsider, en banc, a three-judge Circuit panel’s ruling in February striking down California’s voter-approved “Proposition 8,” banning same-sex marriage in that state.

DOMA’s Section 3, limiting any federal benefit based on marriage to a man and a woman, applies to more than 1,000 federal laws and is understood to affect more than 100,000 married gay couples around the country.  While Congress did not seek in DOMA to directly outlaw same-sex marriage, it did deny access for such married couples to such things as Social Security survivor benefits, health insurance for federal workers’ spouses, and other medical benefits, and it barred such couples from filing joint federal tax returns.

The First Circuit also noted that the ban “has potentially serious adverse consequences for states that choose to legalize same-sex marriage.” In fact, the state of Massachusetts joined in this challenge by arguing that Section 3 would revoke federal funding for the state’s Medicaid program for the poor, and for state veterans’ cemeteries.

DOMA is almost certain to make its way to the Supreme Court. And the First Circuit got into the ambiguity over the level of constitutional scrutiny that courts should apply to laws that discriminate against gays and lesbians, saying that it must be higher than the deferential rational-basis review applied to non-suspect classifications.

The First Circuit opinion can be read here.

If invalidated the federal government could not deny federal marriage benefits to the six states that have legalized same-sex marriage.

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