Federal Judge: DOMA Section Is Unconstitutional and ‘Violates Equality Protection’

Ruling today in Gill et al. v. Office of Personnel Management, the lawsuit brought by GLAD (and the law firms Foley Hoag, Sullivan & Worcester, and Jenner & Block) on behalf of 19 plaintiffs, Federal District Court Judge Joseph Tauro has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act’s Section 3, declaring it “violates … equal protection principles.”

In concert with a ruling in Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. HHS (where the state’s Attorney General Martha Coakley also sued the federal government over DOMA), Judge Tauro has declared the obvious: a law banning recognition of same-sex unions violates the Constitution.

So much for the Department of Justice trying to get out of doing all that paperwork. All along, the government’s lawyers, led by DoJ attorney W. Scott Simpson, arguing that even though Obama “disagrees with DOMA as a matter of policy and would like to see it repealed,” that position “does not affect its constitutionality.”

Wrong, says Judge Tauro. DOMA does interfere with a state’s right to set its own marriage laws.

The ruling strikes down the part of DOMA that declares the federal government cannot recognize same-sex marriages even when states in the union have legalized them, and thus may deny federal benefits and even the right to jointly file taxes.

Before the ruling was announced, GLAD’s lead counsel Mary Bonauto noted, “This is not a marriage case. If we win, it wouldn’t result in any new marriages. It’s a case where people are already married and they’re being treated differently by the federal government. It’s about equal protection. When it comes to the U.S. code and how the federal government treats married people, there is no justification for denying equal taxation, equal Social Security benefits and equal federal retiree protections just because it’s a same-sex marriage.”