Federal Gay Marriage Ban Ruled Unconstitutional
by Charles Lemos, Fri Jul 09, 2010 at 01:58:45 AM EDT
Judge Joseph Tauro in the Federal District Court in Massachusetts struck down Section 3 of the Clinton-era Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) that defines marriage as a union exclusively between a man and a woman. Section 3 of DOMA had required that marriage, for purposes of federal benefits programs, must be defined as the union of one man and one woman, so that same sex marriages cannot take advantage of any federal benefits programs even when state laws allowed same sex marriages. US District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled in favor of gay couples' rights in two separate challenges to the 1996 law. The rulings apply only to Massachusetts but could have broader implications if Judge Tauro's rulings are upheld on appeal.
The Boston-based group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders had, in March 2009, brought one of two suits challenging the law, on behalf of seven married same-sex couples and three widowers from Massachusetts who contended that it violated their federal constitutional right to equal protection. A second challenge to the law had been brought forth by Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. The state had argued the law denied benefits such as Medicaid to gay married couples in Massachusetts, where same-sex unions have been legal since 2004. Judge Tauro agreed and said the Section 3 of DOMA forces Massachusetts to discriminate against its own citizens in order to be eligible for federal funding in federal-state partnerships. The judge further ruled that DOMA 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.