Federal judge strikes down Section 3 of DOMA as violation of Equal Protection

by on July 8, 2010  •  In Constitutional law, DoMA

Judge Joseph Tauro in U.S. District Court in Massachusetts ruled that the federal government's refusal to recognize the marriages of same-sex couples violates the Equal Protection rights of the individuals involved and also violates the Tenth Amendment's preservation of state sovereignty in certain fields. Judge Tauro issued decisions in the two parallel challenges to this portion of DoMA:

  1. the Gill v OPM decision finds that the denial of recognition to same-sex couples who are lawfully married under their state's law could not pass even a rational basis test for constitutionality;
  2. the  Massachusetts v HHS decision finds that Congress lacked authority to regulate marital status in this context and that compliance with DoMA by the commonwealth would hamper its own governmental functions.

The decisions granted summary judgment to the plaintiffs in both cases. They apply to married couples in Massachusetts. The case was limited to the portion of DOMA that forbids the federal government from recognizing same-sex marriages; it did not address whether state laws barring same-sex marriage are constitutional.

In the Equal Protection analysis, found in the Gill decision, the court repeatedly invoked Romer v. Evans, in which the Supreme Court invalidated an anti-gay Colorado state constitutional amendment. As in Romer, the district court judge found that DoMA imposed broad negative consequences across a wide range of federal programs, with no logical connection to a legitimate purpose. The court wrote,

What remains, therefore, is the possibility that Congress sought to deny recognition to same-sex marriages in order to make heterosexual marriage appear more valuable or desirable. But to the extent that this was the goal, Congress has achieved it only by punishing same-sex couples who exercise their rights under state law. And this the Constitution does not permit. For if the constitutional conception of equal protection of the laws means anything, it must at the very least mean that the Constitution will not abide such a bare congressional desire to harm a politically unpopular group…

…[W]hen the proffered rationales for a law are clearly and manifestly implausible, a reviewing court may infer that animus is the only explicable basis. [Because] animus alone cannot constitute a legitimate government interest, this court finds that DOMA lacks a rational basis to support it.

These cases go now to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, and from there, in all likelihood, to the Supreme Court.

A huge BRAVO to the lawyers at GLAD -


3 Responses to Federal judge strikes down Section 3 of DOMA as violation of Equal Protection

  1. Mark@Lipovox July 9, 2010 at 9:30 AM

    I don’t know about you guys but same sex marriages gives me goosebumps every time I imagine it. No harm done right?

  2. Jay July 13, 2010 at 6:28 PM

    Yes, a huge bravo to the lawyers at GLAD and also to the lawyers for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

    I have a question that you may be able to answer. All over the blogosphere activists are getting bent out of shape at the probability that the Department of Justice will probably appeal this case. They point out, rightly in my opinion, that many administrations have not appealed all the cases that they lose. But here is where I differ from them. I think we need the Justice Department to appeal.

    If the DOJ does not appeal, the individual plaintiffs and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts will win. But the victory will not extend beyond the state of Massachusetts and Judge Tauro’s decisions will have little precedential value.

    Moreover, if the DOJ decides not to appeal, I suspect that the Alliance Defense Fund or other conservative group could sue for standing and probably win the right to appeal the ruling.

    Unless the appeals go through the First Circuit and then to SCOTUS, DOMA will not be declared unconstitutional in the other states that marry same-sex couples, will it?

    On the faq on the GLAD website, they seem to be begging the Justice Department to appeal; otherwise, they say, the case ends in Massachusetts.

    Why are so many people expressing such anger at the prospect of an appeal? I think we should welcome it.

  3. Nan Hunter July 15, 2010 at 7:34 AM

    I agree with you completely. The demand by some for the Justice Dept not to appeal is entirely misguided.

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