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Defense of Marriage Act Unconstitutional

A May 2012 federal Court Rules DOMA is Unconstitutional


Defense of Marriage Rings

Defense of Marriage Rings

© Martin Poole/Getty Images

DOMA Update: May 2012

On May 31 a federal court in Massachusetts ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional. The Defense of Marriage Act prevents the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages, even from the states where those marriages are valid. The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution’s guarantee of equal protection of the laws.

Gay and lesbian and human rights activists have been fighting DOMA ever since Massachusetts became the first state to legalize same-sex marriage in 2004. The ruling is good news for gay and lesbian couples. Although DOMA has not been overturned, it seems likely that the discriminatory law is on its way out.

The Defense of Marriage Law was enacted in 1996 and signed by then president Bill Clinton, who has since come out in favor of same-sex marriage. The Obama administration had already said it would no longer defend the Defense of Marriage Law in the courts.

The May 2012 ruling addresses a portion of DOMA, and how the federal government treats couples once they have been married. The ruling did not address the parts of the law that says states do not have to recognize same-sex marriages performed in states where it is legal.

As it stands now, couples who are married in any of the states where same sex marriage is legal do not have access to the more than 1,000 federal rights that married opposite sex couples have.

It seems likely that the next step for DOMA is the United States Supreme court. This is just one court challenge that involves gay marriage. The case of Perry v. Schwarzenegger is fighting the constitutionality of California’s Prop 8, which banned same-sex marriage in California.

Shannon Minter, Esq National Center for Lesbian Rights Legal Director issued this statement:

"Today’s decision, authored by one of the most well-respected conservative federal judges in the country, sounds the death knell for this discriminatory law. Every day that DOMA remains on the books, it is causing serious harm to same-sex couples and their children and branding all lesbian, gay, and bisexual people as inferior. The Supreme Court should affirm this decision so that we can put this shameful period in our nation’s history behind us. The federal government has no interest in treating people differently because of their sexual orientation or gender identity."

What’s Next?

This decision pretty much guarantees that the United States Supreme Court will likely decide on the case.
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