Appeals court strikes down Defense of Marriage Act

Supports of gay rights wave a rainbow flag during a pride rally.

A federal appeals court on Thursday found a law that denies federal benefits to married same-sex couples unconstitutional in a case with implications for gay marriages across the United States.

The Boston-based Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit concluded that the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman, discriminates against gay couples.

“Under current Supreme Court authority, Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest,” Judge Michael Boudin wrote for the three-judge panel.

Plaintiffs, including seven married same-sex couples and three widowers, said the law, which prevents them from filing joint federal tax returns or collecting Social Security survivor benefits, denied them equal protections guaranteed under the Constitution.

Lawyers for the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the House of Representatives (BLAG) had defended the 1996 law, which the Obama administration essentially abandoned in 2011.

A federal judge in Massachusetts declared a key section of DOMA unconstitutional in 2010, and the appeals court agreed. Massachusetts legalized same-sex marriage in 2004.

The 1st Circuit panel found that federalism permits diversity of governance based on local decisions, but that choice also applied to states’ decisions to legalize same-sex marriage.


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