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NEW YORK -- Yet another federal court has ruled the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, aka DOMA, is unconstitutional.
The First Circuit Court of Appeals in New York upheld a lower court ruling that found DOMA was unconstitutional, sticking another hole in the federal law that discriminates against legally married gay and lesbian couples.
The ruling by a three-judge panel was authored by Judge Michael Boudin, who was nominated by President George H.W. Bush, a Republican. It involves two closely-watched cases:
* Gill v. Office of Personnel Management, filed by Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders on behalf of married Massachusetts same-sex couples denied specific federal rights and benefits
* Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services, filed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
"We are thrilled that another court - this time, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit - has ruled that it is unconstitutional to deny respect to the marriages of lesbian and gay couples," said Camilla Taylor, Lambda Legal's Marriage Project director.
"The so-called Defense of Marriage Act is being challenged in multiple cases and it won't be long before that bad law is gone for good," she said.
"We congratulate our colleagues at Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders (GLAD) and the State of Massachusetts for achieving this wonderful victory."
Joe Solmonese, outgoing president of the Human Rights Campaign, applauded the historical decision.
“This ruling is a historic victory for loving gay and lesbian couples and their children,” he said. “For the first time, a federal appeals court has recognized that our constitution will not tolerate a law that forces the federal government to deny lawfully-married same-sex couples equal treatment. The writing is clearly on the wall for the demise of this unjust and indefensible law that hurts real families.”
HRC noted that six states and the District of Columbia allow gay and lesbian couples to marry. Maryland and Washington lawmakers have approved marriage equality, but opponents are expected to fight the laws at the ballot box.
“We applaud GLAD, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and the courageous plaintiffs for their incredible efforts on behalf of gay and lesbian couples in Massachusetts and across the nation,” Solmonese said.
According to HRC:
In July 2010, a federal district court judge ruled in the Gill and Massachusetts cases that DOMA is unconstitutional. Two other federal district courts and a federal bankruptcy court have subsequently agreed. Because the Obama Administration’s Justice Department has decided not to defend DOMA in court, the House Republican leadership through the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group is currently defending DOMA. They are likely to appeal today’s ruling, either to larger panel of the First Circuit or to the U.S. Supreme Court.
John Lewis, Marriage Equality USA legal director, said he hopes the ruling is the fatal blow to DOMA.
"We are hopeful that soon all loving, committed same-sex couples, who are legally married in their home states, will no longer be excluded from the over 1,000 rights and responsibilities that all other married couples have under federal law," Lewis said. "The First Circuit Court of Appeals looked closely for any interest that could possibly justify this exclusion, and it found none. DOMA cannot stand."
Adam Umhoefer, executive director of the American Foundation for Equal Rights, which sued to unhinge California's Proposition 8, applauded today's ruling.
“Today’s momentous decision by the First Circuit Court of Appeals is yet another example of the clear pattern of consistent recognition among federal courts that marriage inequality — by any level of government — violates our nation’s core constitutional principles,” Umhoefer said. “Whether it is California’s Proposition 8 or the so-called Defense of Marriage Act, court after court has affirmed that marriage discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans is unfair, unjust, and unconstitutional.”
Evan Wolfson, founder and president of Freedom to Marry, hailed the ruling.
“Today’s unanimous decision issued by the First Circuit Court of Appeals is a powerful affirmation that the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is an unconstitutional and unjust law whose days are numbered. This ruling will return the federal government to its historic role of respecting marriages performed in the states, without carving out a ‘gay exception’ that denies thousands of protections," Wolfson said.
“As more loving same-sex couples commit their lives to one another in marriage, the harms of this unjust law become more clear – from service members, risking their lives to protect ours, being denied the ability to protect their own families through military medical insurance or survivor benefits to senior citizens having to move out of their homes after their partners of many decades pass on because they cannot access Social Security protections afforded any other legally married couple.”
Michael Keegan, president of People For the American Way Foundation, also liked the outcome.
“The First Circuit has reached the inevitable conclusion on DOMA: the arguments for such a discriminatory, hurtful law just don’t hold up. Over 16 years, DOMA has denied thousands of legally married Americans the protections and responsibilities granted to all other married couples under federal law. DOMA prevents married couples from providing for each other through Social Security; sponsoring each other for visas; helping each other with the tax benefits reserved for married couples; and prevents some service members and veterans from having their marriages recognized by the military. DOMA marginalizes a group of Americans, declares them inferior, and denies them rights granted to all others," he said.
“DOMA has caused real harm to Americans. A law that discriminates against a class of people just for the sake of discrimination is contrary to our principles and contrary to our laws.”