BREAKING: Federal Appeals Court In MA Finds DOMA Unconstitutional

A federal appeals court in Boston has ruled 3-0 that the Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutionally prevents legally married same-sex couples in Massachusetts from receiving certain benefits given to heterosexual pairs.

“Today’s landmark ruling makes clear once again that DOMA is a discriminatory law for which there is no justification,” said Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley. “It is unconstitutional for the federal government to create a system of first- and second-class marriages, and it does harm to families in Massachusetts every day. All Massachusetts couples should be afforded the same rights and protections under the law, and we hope that this decision will be the final step toward ensuring that equality for all.”

Coakley originally filed a complaint in 2009 stating that DOMA interfered with the Commonwealth’s authority to define and regulate the marital status of its residents—and that it “unlawfully requires Massachusetts to disregard valid marriages in its implementation of federally funded programs,” according to a statement from the AG’s office.

DOMA was ruled unconstitutional by the United States District Court in 2010, but anti-marriage-equality activists took it to the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Today’s decision affirms the original District Court decision.


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  • 1equalityUSA

    Right on, babies! Happy dance. Thanks Martha Coakley and the First Circuit Court of Appeals. Discrimination is unlawful and un-American. Love it. Legal precedence means the world to us if we are to finally attain the equality, for which we never should have had to fight in the first place. Thank you for all of your hard work! These are exciting times. Our Country is made stronger by lessening discrimination. We are on the road to full American status under law. Now watch the haters spew more vile words in response to the inevitable.

  • D P

    @1equalityUSA: quote: “Right on, babies! Happy dance.” — I agree! And you’re right, the haters probably WILL spew more vile words, PROVING they’re un-American.

  • Kayo

    Marriage equality will be obtained in courts, and not in referendums. Minority rights can’t be dependent on other humans – as so many people are hateful, selfish and ignorant. It’s has to be decided in courts not in wishes. All the anti-gay marriage effort will come tumbling down when courts get more involved, soon.

  • Cam

    Every court decision has basically said the same thing. That the defenders of DOMA have never been able to articulate any reason for the discrimination.

    Basically the bigots only have two defenses.

    1. The Bible says so….which doesn’t work because we are not a theocracy, and there are multiple passages that are not put into law simply because they are in there.


    2. Gays are icky and different from us and we don’t like them, which isn’t a legal defense, because bigotry isn’t a valid reason.

    The bigots have to know that the pendulum is swinging hard against them.

  • jason

    The real question is this: why hasn’t Obama done anything to end DOMA? We have to rely on courts when the real leadership should be coming from Obama. Obama has failed to provide any real leadership on gay rights.

    Obama’s fake support for gay marriage was an attempt to get us off his back. Keep in mind that he qualified his support by stating that it should be up to the states to determine gay marriage rights. Therefore, you got no national leadership from a President on legislation that was enacted at the federal level.

    And what about ENDA? What is the President doing on that? If he doesn’t have the guts to issue an executive order enacting ENDA, he doesn’t deserve our votes.

  • n900mixalot

    @jason: Anything he does will be viewed as partisan and will be overturned. What we need is to build a jurisprudential (court-reasoned) base for the de-nationalization of marriage. Federal recognition of marriages is the problem here, and when the fed recognizes rights that some states grant and others do not, and then gives people benefits based on those extra rights (here, marriage), we have a violation of the 5th and 14th amendment grant of equal protectection under the law.

    The problem is not that states do not want to grant marriage to us. We can move freely (so to speak) and get married in a state that welcomes us. But when our national government blatantly steps on the toes of a state power, we have the national government screwing us all over. So… this is definitely the right way to go. The President needs to let the states be the place where this whole thing gets sorted out first, and then let it be appealed upward. The Supreme Court could NEVER decide that a state’s right should be trumped by deferal law, and they have been smart to let DOMA be the vessel. For them to decide otherwise would overturn and basically upset the notion that marriage is up to the states and that would get them all hanged.

    No joke.

  • n900mixalot

    Ugh, *federal not deferal. Can we please get Disqus on here so we can edit our comments?

  • Markie-Mark

    This is really great news. And I have been waiting for this ruling since the appeal in August of 2010. (I live in Massachusetts and have been married for 7 years.) One slight correction to the article, though. In August of 2010 it was Obama’s Justice Dept that appealed the Federal Court ruling and requested a stay so that Obama could continue to enforce DOMA. Only after Obama decided not to defend DoMA any longer did the House (under the direction of Boeher) that took over the appeal.

  • Frank McGinness

    Yay for sexual freedom and love rights. But wait up! What kind of freedoms and rights is this when even the most basic of personal rights of oneself, one’s body, self ownership, freedom of expression, freedom from religious persecution, sexual equality, and free from sexist gender specific laws are not had for half of the population. I am among a growing population that is demanding back our right to own our whole bodies. See: . Rights have been taken from us. The reminder of what remains. And our right to vote on male circumcision,, was taken from us in San Francisco. Yes, circumcised men do complain only to be met with a court ordered gag from SF Judge Giorgi who has now set precedent that non medical having no curative or correcting malformation quality, be now termed medical. This is a new definition for “medical” hence aka Giorgi Circumcision.) Join intactivists in a Pride Parade near you or with us, Bay Area Intactivists in the SF Pride parade.

  • Markie-Mark

    If DoMA is finally overturned by the Supreme Court married gays will be able to go back 3 years to amend their tax returns and get back the extra tax money that they had to pay for (1) tax on spousal health insurance and (2) inability to file joint returns. You can contact GLAD for more information/advice. But I’m sure your accountant/ tax adviser will be have that information.

  • mudgeboy

    Obama has done more for gay people than any other president in history. He has fought for and approved a lot of bills that protect gay people, but that aren’t as emotionally charged as the right to marry. And I can’t begin to comprehend the immeasurable amount of courage that it must have taken for a sitting president, in a tough election year, to make a public statement in favor of marriage equality! Some posters have already said that if left to referendum, we’d never get any rights, because there are always enough haters to vote or sway voters against us. Thus, Obama’s endorsement of marriage equality was a huge risk. Also, Obama eliminated DADT, a law signed in by another democratic president who seemed to be pro-gay, yet signed two anti-gay bills that became law under his watch. Some gay people seem to never be happy with any pro-gay happening — almost like they’re just angry.

  • Frank McGinness

    You’re so right about Obama. I’m not wearing the obama cap I bought then and now. Please excuse me for grandstanding again (comment below), but Obama is giving our money to those in Africa that include forced male child and adult circumcision, military.

    The U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR) , USAID

    NOTE: the USA has the highest circumcision and HIV rate of all like nations. The USA was 46, now ranks 48 in infant mortality.

  • Markie-Mark

    I forgot to mention that this ruling only covers Section 3 of DoMA (Section 3 basically says: if any state recognized gay marriage, domestic partnership or civil union the Federal Government refuses to recognize those relationships.) It would be interesting if SCOTUS affirms than could a gay couple from, say Alabama, go to Massachusetts and get married and then return to Alabama and get all federal benefits?

    Actually, getting other states to recognize marriages performed in equality states would need to come from a different law suit – possibly a follow up to the Prop 8 case in California.

    Lots of interesting stuff to discuss with this landmark case.

  • James

    So, we have to thank two Republican appointed judges and hope the blacks stop voting against our rights. What a difference a day makes.

  • Jase

    @Frank McGinness: your comments are getting spammy

  • Aussie Col

    @1equalityUSA: Congratulations. I like you, can’t wait for the right wing squeals.

  • Jim H.

    On a bummer note, though, the First Circuit declined to actually enforce its ruling, and will instead wait to see what the Supreme Court says. Given recent history (Citizens United, Concepción, etc.), I can’t say that I am too optimistic about the current crop of high court jurists doing anything good.

  • Steve

    The supreme court has four consistent liberals, and five consistent conservatives, on financial issues. But, on civil-rights issues, it has five consistent liberals and three consistent conservatives, with Justice O’Connor being less consistent. Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion in Lawrence v Texas, which struck down sodomy laws.

    The marriage cases are pretty clear, under the 14th amendment. That amendment says that “all persons” have equal protection, and that “no person” may be denied equal protection. The phrase “all persons” includes gay persons, just as surely as it includes any other kind of person.

    The Lawrence majority decision directly states that gay couples are entitled to equal protection, as couples. In a dissent in that same case, Scalia noted that the right of same-sex couples to marry follows directly from the majority decision.

    So, when (or if) any of the current crop of marriage cases gets to the court, the outcome will almost certainly be in our favor. The question is, whether Congress will pass the Respect for Marriage Act, first.

  • Bill S.

    Steve: That must be some comfy rock you’ve got there because you’ve been living under it for several years now. Justice O’Connor is no longer on the bench and hasn’t been for some time. Kennedy’s decisions have been consistently pro-gay, so I am hopeful we do have a pro-equal marriage majority on the court.

    The majority decision in Lawrence was NOT based on Equal Protection, only O’Connor’s concurrence was. Lawrence was decided on Due Process (right to privacy) grounds. It also did not clarify what level of scrutiny should be used in adjudicating laws that distinguish based on sexual orientation.

  • 1equalityUSA

    BillS, Please give us more. Make it easy for us non-lawyers. Wjat is your take on Alito, Roberts, Thomas, and Scalia?

  • Jim H.

    I would add that it’s incorrect to draw a hard line between social issues and so-called “financial issues”, especially in the context of this Supreme Court’s recent body of work. We are not just talking about interpretation of the tax code or something similarly technical. Rather, this court has consistently gutted every individual constitutional right and consumer protection it has encountered in the last several years. It is fair to say that the Bill of Rights is quite a bit smaller (at least for us natural persons) than it used to be.

    It is true that Kennedy used to have a decent track record on sexual orientation issues (in fact, he was lead counsel for the “good side” in Romer v. Evans, wasn’t he? ) But his recent jurisprudence has been so absurd and detestable that I am unable to share in Bill’s optimism.

  • Bill S.

    Kennedy did sign on to the majority decision authored by Ginsburg in Christian Legal Society v. Martinez where the Court explicitly stated that “Our decisions have declined to distinguish between status and conduct in this context,” echoing similar language in Lawrence v. Texas (authored by Kennedy). As being gay is now a *status* and not conduct, it is only a matter of time before laws that differentiate based on sexual orientation are required to pass “strict scrutiny” (the government must show a *compelling* justification for them, i.e. one that furthers public safety or national security, and that the law is as narrowly tailored to achieve those means. In short, it makes it essentially impossible for the federal government or any state to pass any anti-gay laws, including banning same-sex marriage).

    Kennedy did not argue in Romer v. Evans: he was serving as a Supreme Court justice at the time and not just joined, but *wrote* the majority decision. Chief Justice Roberts did pro-bono work for the pro-gay side in that case.

    DOMA is going down. That much is certain, and I am confident that the decision will be at least 5–4 with Kennedy joining, if not 6–3 with Roberts also joining. The question then is if the Supreme Court will finally address what level of scrutiny anti-gay laws require. This is the most important aspect of this case and is a point of law that has befuddled our courts for far too long.

  • SkeeterVT

    @n900mixalot: It never ceases to amaze me how woefully ignorant of American history people are when it comes to who can marry and who can’t — and that ignorance applies as much to supporters of gay and lesbian marriage equality as to those who fiercely oppose it.

    At no time in the long legal battles over marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples has anyone — other than Ted Olson and David Boies, the attorneys challenging California’s Proposition 8 — invoked no fewer than THREE Supreme Court precedents in arguing that laws barring gay and lesbian couples from marrying violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

    Loving v. Virginia (1967) declared that the freedom of two unrelated, single consenting adults to marry one another is fully protected by the Constitution — striking down laws in 16 states that barred interracial couples from marrying.

    Romer v. Evans (1996) declared that states cannot single out gays and lesbians for exclusion from the constitutional and civil rights enjoyed by everyone else — striking down Colorado’s voter-approved Amendment 2, which struck down laws banning anti-gay discrimination and barred the passage of any future laws to that end.

    Lawrence v. Texas (2003) declared that states cannot impose criminal sanctions on the sexual relationships of consenting adults in the privacy of their own homes — repudiating its infamous 1986 Bowers v. Hardwick decision and fully decriminalizing adult gay and lesbian relationships (and effectively removing the last legal justification to bar gay and lesbian couples from marrying, according to conservative Justice Antonin Scalia’s biting dissenting opinion).

    I cannot see how these three Supreme Court precedents can be ignored when the challenges to either DOMA, Prop. 8 — or both — reaches the Supreme Court, likely suring the court’s 2012-13 term.

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