Today’s Victory for Gay Marriage

Key part of DOMA ruled unconstitutional by appeals court

Photo by Think Stock

Today could become a turning point for same-sex marriage in the U.S. A U.S. appeals court ruled that a key part of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) is unconstitutional. DOMA, as you may know, has been a major obstacle in the fight for marriage equality as it defines marriage between a man and a woman on the federal level.

But today, the 1st Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in Boston ruled that it’s unconstitutional for the federal government to deny tax, health and pension benefits to same-sex couples in states that legally allow same-sex marriage.

“If we are right in thinking that disparate impact on minority interests and federalism concerns both require somewhat more in this case than almost automatic deference to Congress’ will, this statute fails that test,” said the three judge panel, according to CNN.

And while the ruling takes one more step in dissolving DOMA, the court did not rule on another key element – that which would make it unconstitutional for states that don’t allow gay marriage to recognize unions performed in other states. For same-sex couples in Pennsylvania, for instance, it would mean that marriages performed in New York or Delaware would be honored at home. So far, this provision is still being debated.

“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,” says AFER Executive Director Adam Umhoefer. “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.”

What DOMA has also done – for the worst – is to compel many states to pass amendments against same-sex marriage, essentially legislating discrimination into state constitutions, a move that could cast a shadow over Pennsylvania (such an amendment is being debated in Harrisburg and endorsed by state Republicans).

But for what it’s worth, earlier this year President Obama said the Justice Department will no longer defend DOMA, saying that the act is unconstitutional and that it discriminates against LGBT Americans. But it still remains one of the biggest obstacles toward marriage equality since it was passed in 1996.

“The First Circuit has reached the inevitable conclusion on DOMA: the arguments for such a discriminatory, hurtful law just don’t hold up,” says Michael Keehan, president of the People for the American Way Foundation. “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 adds, “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.”