In a landmark decision, a Boston federal appeals court on Thursday declared the heart of the Defense of Marriage Act, called DOMA, unconstitutional. The 1996 law defines marriage as a union between a man and a woman.
The 3 judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeals in Boston ruled unanimously that the law unconstitutionally discriminates against same-sex couples. The panel included two Republican appointees and it is the first time a federal appeals court has struck down parts of the gay marriage law.
Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, whose office filed the suit, hailed the decision, saying DOMA does damage to Massachusetts families every day: “We’re aware of veterans who would not be able to be buried in a veterans cemetery with their loved one, their married partner. They are married under Massachusetts law. But for purposes of federal law they would not be considered married and not be able to be buried together. We have also seen couples who have been denied access to health care, social security and other survivor benefits.”
The court didn’t rule on a more politically explosive provision of DOMA, which says states without same sex marriage don’t have to recognize same sex unions performed in states such as Massachusetts, where gay marriage is legal.
Still, Coakley called the ruling a big deal: “This is a great day for Massachusetts for civil rights and for all same sex couples in Massachusetts who are married or who will be.”
But Kris Mineau of the Massachusetts Family Institute says liberal states like Massachusetts are trying to define marriage for the nation:
“This court has the audacity to hold the federal government hostage and demand the government recognize massachusetts’ radical social experiment and bestow its benefits upon it.”
The ruling is now expected to wind up before the Supreme Court.