This afternoon, U.S. District Court Judge Joseph Tauro ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act's denial of federal rights and benefits to lawfully married Massachusetts couples "offends" the notion of states' rights as enshrined in the10th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.
A Justice Department spokesperson said that Obama administration was "reviewing the decision," and had not yet decided whether to appeal to defend a law against same sex marriage that President Obama says he opposes.
Tauro, nominated to the bench by President Richard Nixon, ruled that DOMA violates the U.S. Constitution "by intruding on areas of exclusive state authority, as well as the Spending Clause, by forcing the Commonwealth to engage in invidious discrimination against its own citizens in order to receive and retain federal funds in connection with two joint federal-state programs."
You can read the ruling HERE.
The case began in March 2009, when Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders filed a suit against the Obama administration's Office of Personnel Management on behalf of eight married couples and three surviving spouses from Massachusetts denied federal spousal rights and benefits because of DOMA, a federal law that defines marriage as "only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife.”
That case was combined with another one from July 2009, when the Commonwealth of Massachusetts sued the federal government for mandating that Massachusetts treat some of its married citizens differently from other when operating federally-funded programs such as veterans' cemeteries and Medicaid.
In 2003, the Supreme Judicial Court of Massachusetts ruled that not allowing same-sex couples to be married violated the equality and liberty provisions of the Massachusetts Constitution, so on May 17, 2004, Massachusetts became the first state to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples. (Vermont had previously allowed civil unions.)
But because of DOMA, signed into law by President Clinton in 1996, the federal government does not recognize those marriages.
Meaning, for instance, that Veterans Affairs' regulations requiring that veterans’ cemeteries “be operated solely for the intermentof veterans, their spouses, surviving spouses, [and certain of their] children" do not apply to same-sex spouses. In June 2008, an arm of the VA called the National Cemetery Administration issued a directive stating that “individuals in a same-sex civil union or marriage are not eligible for burial in a national cemetery or State veterans cemetery that receives federal grant funding based on being the spouse or surviving spouse of a same-sex veteran.”
In Zanesville, Ohio, two years ago, candidate Obama said that DOMA "was an unnecessary imposition on what had been the traditional rules governing marriage and how states interact on the issues of marriage." His campaign website stated that he supported the complete repeal of DOMA.
"Federal law should not discriminate in any way against gay and lesbian couples," he said, "which is precisely what DOMA does."
But the Justice Department has defended DOMA, Justice Department spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler explaining that while President Obama “has said he wants to see a legislative repeal of the Defense of Marriage Act because it prevents LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender) couples from being granted equal rights and benefits … until Congress passes legislation repealing the law, the administration will continue to defend the statute when it is challenged in the justice system."
- Jake Tapper