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DOMA Declared Unconstitutional by Bankruptcy Court

In a ruling on a case filed one day after the Obama administration released its opinion, declaring Section 3 of DOMA unconstitutuional, the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California, in Los Angeles, has concurred.

Bankruptcy MetroWeekly's Chris Geidner reports on a bankruptcy filing brought by a same-sex married couple, Gene Douglas Balas and Carlos A. Morales:

After reviewing the law as it relates to DOMA, the court concluded:

This court cannot conclude from the evidence or the record in this case that any valid governmental interest is advanced by DOMA as applied to the Debtors. Debtors have urged that recent governmental defenses of the statute assert that DOMA also serves such interests as “preserving the status quo,” “eliminating inconsistencies and easing administrative burdens” of the government. None of these post hoc defenses of DOMA withstands heightened scrutiny. In the court’s final analysis, the government’s only basis for supporting DOMA comes down to an apparent belief that the moral views of the majority may properly be enacted as the law of the land in regard to state-sanctioned same-sex marriage in disregard of the personal status and living conditions of a significant segment of our pluralistic society. Such a view is not consistent with the evidence or the law as embodied in the Fifth Amendment with respect to the thoughts expressed in this decision. The court has no doubt about its conclusion: the Debtors have made their case persuasively that DOMA deprives them of the equal protection of the law to which they are entitled.

Geidner notes that the opinion was signed by 20 of the 24 (or 25) bankruptcy judges in the district.

In related news, Americablog reports that CREW (Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington) has filed an ethics complaint against House Speaker John Boehner (R-OH) for violating the Antideficiency Act:

In violation of a law designed to stop government officials from overspending appropriations, Speaker Boehner directed the House Office of General Counsel (OGC) to sign a contract to pay an outside firm $500,000 to defend the highly controversial Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

Read the decision, AFTER THE JUMP...

DOMA Memorandum of Decision

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Comments

  1. How great and ironic would it be if a Bankruptcy court was the one that brought DOMA down? Not unlike "tax evasion", of all things, brought down Al Capone.

    Posted by: RONTEX | Jun 14, 2011 1:15:53 PM


  2. While it's maddening to watch in real-time slow motion, I'm finding it a wonderful time to live through as the barriers to LGBT equality come (too-slowly) crashing down.

    Posted by: Zlick | Jun 14, 2011 1:33:58 PM


  3. Think how far along we'd be if Obama hadn't wasted two years siccing Dick Cheney's DOJ on us, gleefully comparing our marriages to incest and pedophelia. And, he was not only extremely evil with that, he also lied about having no choice but to defend DOMA the entire time, even as we repeatedly countered those lies month after month after month -- until, suddenly, those lies weren't true anymore. Thanks, Barack Obama!

    Posted by: ohplease | Jun 14, 2011 1:47:16 PM


  4. Unfortunately, bankruptcy court decisions have no precedential influence on regular federal courts.

    Posted by: joe | Jun 14, 2011 2:13:04 PM


  5. @Zlick, I agree with the pace being slower than I'd like ( we are the internet generation of instant gratification after all) and to OhPlease, this is all happening at light speed compared to how long the battle for African Americans civil rights took and they did not give up and neither will we. We are fortunate to have a president that not only hears us but has our back, even if YOU think it's taking too long. Changing the mindset of millions of people across multiple generations doesn't happen overnight.

    Posted by: RONTEX | Jun 14, 2011 2:16:52 PM


  6. Rontex, the day Obama has our backs is the day he crawls out of his cave to support full equality (same-sex marriage). He's not evolved in my opinion.

    Posted by: Robert | Jun 14, 2011 2:45:31 PM


  7. oh really Robert?

    Obama is no saint BUT he is far better than what we could have had with mccain/pallin

    If u think Hillary would have done any different than Obama then you are naive

    Posted by: Mstrozfckslv | Jun 14, 2011 2:53:23 PM


  8. And for the record: the Fifth Amendment says: "No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, NOR BE DEPRIVED OF LIFE, LIBERTY, OR PROPERTY, WITHOUT DUE PROCESS OF LAW; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation." [Emphasis mine. dr]

    Posted by: David R. | Jun 14, 2011 3:01:44 PM


  9. So Robert, I'm guessing you are either sitting out this election or voting for on of the gay loving Republican candidates? Either way, what a waste of a vote. Huff Post just published a great article about Obama's relationship with the gay community and it's continued evolution: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/06/14/obamas-relationship-with-gay-rights-advocates-2012_n_876671.html

    Posted by: RONTEX | Jun 14, 2011 3:04:47 PM


  10. "None of these post hoc defenses of DOMA withstands heightened scrutiny."

    Ummm... did they just accept that heightened scrutiny was appropriate for claims of LGBT discrimination? Cause that would be swell.

    And yes, even though this decision is of limited precedential judicial value, it's still a political statement from a large group of very privileged people saying they are on our side. Not just that, but they'll use their professional power to support us.

    Posted by: Kyle | Jun 14, 2011 3:34:55 PM


  11. For those who criticize Obama. He's not a fool. Yes, he equivocates on marriage equality – what do you expect? You want him to come out in favor of marriage equality and watch his chances for re-election dwindle in this vitriolic partisan time in national politics? Well, he doesn’t.

    Think about him in a bigger picture, can you? The man attended Columbia for undergrad studies in PoliSci, not only attended Harvard Law but was the editor of the Law Review, he taught Constitutional Law over a decade at University of Chicago, and not only did he manage to win the Senate seat for Illinois but he became the 5th youngest President this country has ever had. The man knows how to get things done, yes?

    Do you really think there isn’t some strategy here? Do you really think he hasn’t monitored the case log in Federal Courts regarding marriage equality? The DOJ did pursue such cases…but they did it in a manner inconsistent with what the President was saying to our community. I wonder why? Perhaps to give Federal judges enough rope to hang the anti-marriage folks. In the last 2+ years, how much more case law has come about that indicates the courts are in our favor. When Obama directed DOJ to stop defending DOMA, he had Federal rulings (from judges appointed by Democrats and Republicans alike) that found laws against marriage equality are ill-founded and unconstitutional.

    He has now made his move. His strategy is INGENIOUS: He has courted the gay community but he doesn’t appear to be moving fast enough for the queers (“Hey Republicans: You can fault him on his pursuit of equality but the gays don’t like him either…how you gonna spin that?”) while engineering a far-sighted strategy to tear down the barriers that only a hot-head would pursue head on. Some presidents react first and think later…some react first and never think…this president seems to think first, weighs options, then decides whether to react or not. It pisses me off sometimes, but I voted for a leader not the most popular boy in senior class.

    Posted by: Jay | Jun 14, 2011 3:57:26 PM


  12. "The House Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, acting through the United States Trustee, at the last minute orally requested a short continuance of the May 17 hearing in order to determine whether to intervene in this case to address the issues. Debtors consented and the court granted the request; yet, there have been no further pleadings and no challenge from the government to any issue raised by the Debtors. The government’s non-response to the Debtors’ challenges is noteworthy."

    That bit is particularly interesting. I wonder if it's on purpose or if the limitations of a small firm led to a slip-up.

    Posted by: BobN | Jun 14, 2011 4:03:38 PM


  13. Kyle: Yes, heightened scrutiny. The decision makes for a great read, with refs to Witt and Perry, etc.

    Bobn: probably no slip up. Not worth pursuing given other priorities and how bad the Ninth Circuit is looking for the BLAG's position. Great explication: http://newyorklawschool.typepad.com/leonardlink/2011/06/20-bankruptcy-judges-issue-joint-opinion-holding-doma-section-3-unconstitutional-as-applied-to-bankr.html

    Posted by: BillyBoy | Jun 14, 2011 4:25:04 PM


  14. I feel dumb.

    Can someone explain what happened? Was the creditor of a gay couple trying to sue them both so they both filed for bankruptcy and was disallowed?

    If its not too much trouble can someone explain?

    Posted by: Rin | Jun 14, 2011 7:02:18 PM


  15. In 1996 the U.S. House of Representitives
    and the U.S. Senate passed DOMA and
    the bill was later signed by the will
    o' the wisp known as Bill Clinton. The completely shameful fact in all this is both
    bodies of Congress and the President take
    an oath to "preserve protect and defend
    the Constitution of the United States."
    DOMA is and has always been unlawful.


    Posted by: FrankJ | Jun 14, 2011 9:08:26 PM


  16. Re Rin:
    The two male debtors were legally married in California and filed a joint bankruptcy petition. Only "spouses" are allowed to file joint bankruptcy cases. DOMA restricts the definition of "spouse" to opposite-sex couples.

    The United States Trustee filed the motion to dismiss the debtors' bankruptcy case because DOMA allegedly restricted the debtors' ability to file a joint bankruptcy petition. The United States Trustee is an arm of the Department of Justice and oversees all of the bankruptcy cases to ensure that no abuse takes place.

    The Bankruptcy Court for the Central District of California held that DOMA was unconstitutional because DOMA violated the equal protection provisions of the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments.

    The decision is unusual for a number of reasons. First, the bankruptcy court in NYC was recently presented with this same issue, and that Court found for the debtors on the basis of the language of the Bankruptcy Code and the inherent discretion of bankruptcy courts, rather than because of any constitutional arguments. Second, the decision is signed by multiple bankruptcy judges. Third, the decision applies heightened scrutiny -- rather than rational basis scrutiny -- to sexual orientation discrimination. Fourth, the decision relies to a great extent on a letter written by Attorney General Holder, which doesn't quite have precedential value.

    It'll be interesting to see if the Office of the United States Trustee decides to appeal this decision.

    Posted by: Sinatra | Jun 15, 2011 2:32:50 AM


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