Friday, July 9, 2010

Federal Court Rules Against Defense of Marriage Act

The 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA, P.L. 104-199) forbids federal recognition of same-sex marriages and lets individual states decline to recognize such marriages performed in other states. The Boston Globe reports:

A federal district court judge in Boston today struck down the 1996 federal law that defines marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman.

Judge Joseph L. Tauro ruled that the federal Defense of Marriage law violates the Constitutional right of married same-sex couples to equal protection under the law and upends the federal government’s long history of allowing states to set their own marriage laws.

"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 drew on history in his ruling, writing that the states have set their own marriage since before the American Revolution and that marriage laws were considered "such an essential element of state power" that the subject was even broached at the time of the framing of the Constitution. Tauro noted that laws barring interracial marriage were once at least as contentious as the current battle over gay marriage.

The judge's decision is not binding on other courts, and the issue is very likely to make its way up to the US Supreme Court. One question is whether DOMA is a constitutional exercise of congressional authority under the full faith and credit clause of the U.S. Constitution. Article IV, section 1 of the Constitution, the Full Faith and Credit Clause, states:

Full Faith and Credit shall be given in each State to the public Acts, Records, and judicial Proceedings of every other State; And the Congress may by general Laws prescribe the Manner in which such Acts, Records and Proceedings shall be proved, and the Effect thereof.

Another question, as mentioned above, is whether a refusal to recognize same-sex marriages violates the Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment.