The Defense of Marriage Act — known as DOMA — defines marriage for federal purposes as unions exclusively between a man and woman. At issue is whether the federal government can deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states where they can legally marry. The ruling is a boost for gay rights advocates and the Obama administration, which in a rare move, has refused to defend a federal law in court.
Chief Judge Sandra Lynch, a Clinton nominee, and Judge Juan Torruella, a Reagan nominee, joined in the opinion. It is in effect only within states with gay marriage laws covered by the 1st Circuit — Massachusetts and New Hampshire — and has limited enforcement. That means there will be no immediate eligibility for financial benefits currently denied same-sex married couples. No change is likely until the high court decides the matter.
Massachusetts had challenged Section 3 of the law on behalf of a group of seven couples. Similar lawsuits have been filed across the country. A bill known as the Respect for Marriage Act is working its way through Congress and would repeal DOMA. Congressional opponents of DOMA hailed the court’s opinion.
The case was argued in Boston last month. The lawyer for the couples said states have long-standing authority to control and define marriage, and that Congress has no right to intervene through DOMA, clearly designed, said the lawyer, as “disrespect” to lesbians and gays.
Both the California and Massachusetts cases could soon be presented to the U.S. Supreme Court for review. The justices would have the discretion to accept one, both, or neither case — perhaps deferring judicial review until a later time, after more lower courts have had time to debate the matter.
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Image: The Blaze