Win/Win: DOMA Found Unconstitutional In District Court


A U.S. district judge ruled today in two cases that the federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional.

Commonwealth of Massachusetts v. Health and Human Services was brought by the attorney general of the state of Massachusetts (much-maligned failed Senate candidate A.G. Martha Coakley). Judge Joseph Tauro (a Nixon appointee!) ruled DOMA to be in violation of the 10th Amendment, the amendment guaranteeing states' rights.

Gill v. Office of Personnel Management led to a decision that DOMA is in violation of the 5th Amendment, which guarantees equal protection under the law.

From the former case:

"This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status. The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state, and, in doing so, offends the Tenth Amendment. For that reason, the statue is invalid."

Full decisions are here. Do you think President Obama will appeal these cases because he "has to"? Or will he take this opportunity to be on the right side of history? I'm curious to know what his actual options are.

A note on what this means from Talking Points Memo:

"…this is a federal district court decision. To become law it would have to survive the inevitable appeal to the federal circuit court level and then, if it made it there, get through the Supreme Court, which under present management seems hard to imagine." 

Freedom to Marry sends this statement:

"Today's historic ruling strikes down federal marriage discrimination enacted under the so-called 'Defense of Marriage Act' in 1996…Today's ruling affirms what we have long known: federal discrimination enacted under DOMA is unconstitutional. The decision will be appealed and litigation will continue. But what we witnessed in the courtroom cannot be erased: federal marriage discrimination harms committed same-sex couples and their families for no good reason."

Linda Lingle must be the saddest person ever.


This news was first broken by the Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders legal organization via Twitter—you may want to follow them here.

In even more potentially good news, Judge Vaughn R. Walker's calendar for July is clear—his ruling on Perry v. Schwarzenegger could come at any time—and it's expected to be another cause for celebration.



  1. stolidog says

    To be fair, as a “strict constitutionalist” and anti-federalist, virulent pro-religion, anti-gay justice Scalia may have a very, very hard time voting to overturn this decision, and may very well find himself voting to uphold a decision that Prop 8 is unconstitutional.
    Should be really interesting to see how this takes shape.

  2. Bruno says

    This is one decision I’m almost sure the SCOTUS won’t overturn, actually. Denying certain married couples in certain states certain rights is clearly unconstitutional.

  3. says

    @ Bruno While this IS great news, and certainly cause for optimism, I wouldn’t exactly be celebrating just yet. Hate and bigotry always finds its way around the law.

  4. Sean says

    This is surely the “turning tide” Judge Walker was questioning during closing arguments in Prop 8. If he needed judicial “cover”, this is it! And note that the court ruled that even on a rational (the lowest) basis, there was no compelling state interest in DOMA’s discriminatory definitions. Congress was motivated by animus towards gays and such hateful prejudice the Constitution will not abide! Nor will it allow the feds to impinge on legit states’ rights under the 10th. Take that Scalia! How will you vote now, you big anti-federalist?!?

  5. Brian says

    Hot damn! It’s weird, I was just thinking about this earlier today. If marriage rights are state rights, and everybody seems to beleive they are, then why is there a federal law preventing federal recognition of a state’s sanctioned marriage. It still sucks for those living in the 41 states that currently have laws or constitutions that ban same sex marriage, but for those in the 5 states that allow it, or the one state that recognizes other state’s same sex marriages, it should be welcoming news. This should be the ultimate goal of all of the “states rights” anti federal government right wingnuts. But seeing as how they’re generally the happiest people to keep us down, let’s see how they react. Do I smell more hypocracy coming on? States rights! Except your state should still do what my state does because my state is better than yours.

    As for me, I still want to move to Canada.

  6. Sean says

    @BRIAN – yes States’ rights. But now Prop 8 could make the discrimination in a given state’s marriage laws unconstitutional denial of equal protection (i.e. Loving v. Virginia and race) and then we all win!!

  7. anon says

    I think you meant the 15th amendment. 10th amendment rulings are rare because of the reluctance to support state laws that discriminate against minorities. This ruling might conflict with the CA case, as that one relies on the US constitution overruling the state of CA. In other words, this ruling would find the CA constitutional amendment (prop 8) to be legal under the US constitution. However, it seems a bit conflicted, regardless.

  8. Bruno says

    @Keith: Certainly not celebrating. Just saying this is probably the most winnable case of all of them, including the Prop 8 one.

  9. Layla Miller says

    The letter of the law versus the spirit of the law is an idiomatic antithesis. When one obeys the letter of the law but not the spirit, one is obeying the literal interpretation of the words (the “letter”) of the law, but not the intent of those who wrote the law. Conversely, when one obeys the spirit of the law but not the letter, one is doing what the authors of the law intended, though not adhering to the literal wording.

    “Law” originally referred to legislative statute, but in the idiom may refer to any kind of rule. Intentionally following the letter of the law but not the spirit may be accomplished through exploiting technicalities, loopholes, and ambiguous language. Following the letter of the law but not the spirit is also a tactic used by oppressive governments.

    Spirit of the Law Upheld: DOMA Found Unconstitutional In District Court.

  10. Andy Niable says

    Not to rain on the Ding-Dong-DOMA-is-Dead parade, but this particular ruling is based NOT on moving us toward marriage equality being nationally available, but rather entrenches “states rights to define marriage,” which is what this judge based his ruling upon–the 10th Ammendment. In other words, this ruling might strike down DOMA itself and the rights of Massachusetts (and other states) to legalize same-sex marriage, but it would also uphold Proposition 8 in California…

  11. Anonymous says

    Equal protection is not the 5th (due process), nor the 15th (race protection), but the 14th.

  12. Paul in Honolulu says

    If theree is only one, unchanging lesson that history teaches us it’s this: Progress can be slowed, but it CANNOT be stopped.

  13. ravewulf says

    @Andy Niable I don’t think so. This decision currently only affects MA unless it is appealed to a higher court. Even if it makes it to the SCOTUS and we win there, it does not affect the Prop 8 trial and those like it.

    This DOMA case is just reinforcing somthing that was already there and goes off the basis that the Federal Gov. can’t restrict benefits of marriage when it is expressly give to the states to determine what a legal marriage is.

    The Prop 8 trial on the other hand uses a completely different argument. That is equal treatment and protection under the law/protected class/discrimination etc. This follows more along the lines of Loving v Virginia and is not impacted by this DOMA case in any way.

    Basically, while defining marriage laws falls to the states, the Federal government can still strike down the bans by saying they are discriminatory and violate the Equal Pretection Clause of the 14th Amendment of the Constitution.

  14. Disgusted American says

    DOMA should actually be spelled “DOHMA” with a silent(H) …”Defense Of Heterosexual Marriage Act”

  15. Sean says

    @ANON and ANONYMOUS – No – the MASS v. HHS case was 10th (all rights not enumerated are reserved…) and the GILL v. OPM was the 5th (equal protection embodied under the 5th’s Due Process clause -“nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law”). So say the Court’s memoranda.

  16. Leto says

    The best part is that the Government has 60 days to decide whether to appeal or not. They need our votes in the mid-term elections. With one voice, we must let this administration know that if they appeal, our money and our votes go AWAY!