Appeals Court Rules DOMA Unconstitutional

The federal government had no permissible federal interest in denying benefits to same-sex couples under the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston ruled Thursday.

Congress’ effort to “put a thumb on the scales and influence a state’s decision as to how to shape its own marriage laws” should subject the justifications of the law to greater scrutiny, the three-judge panel ruled. Tradition alone, the court said, wasn’t enough of a reason to deny same-sex couples federal benefits.

“For 150 years, this desire to maintain tradition would alone have been justification enough for almost any statute,” the ruling stated. “But Supreme Court decisions in the last fifty years call for closer scrutiny of government action touching upon minority group interests and of federal action in areas of traditional state concern.”While acknowledging that “many Americans believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman,” the court ruled that one of the virtues of federalism is that “it permits this diversity of governance based on local choice.” Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts, the court said, “has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.”

The Obama administration decided last February that it would no longer defend DOMA because a review found that Section 3 of the law, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, was unconstitutional. President Barack Obama officially backed a measure to repeal the law last summer and endorsed gay marriage earlier this month.

Several federal courts, including in California have also found DOMA unconstitutional. Thursday’s appeals court ruling upheld the decision of a lower court in July 2010.

Two of the three judges on the panel were appointed by Republican presidents.

Read the decision:

DOMA Federal Appeals Court Decision