Federal Appeals Court Finds Defense of Marriage Act to be Unconstitutional


A unanimous 3-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled today that Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act, which denies federal benefits to same-sex couples who have been lawfully married in states that permit gay marriage, violates the U.S. Constitution. Here are some snippets from the majority opinion of Judge Michael Boudin, a judicial conservative appointed to the 1st Circuit by President George H.W. Bush:

This case is difficult because it couples issues of equal protection and federalism with the need to assess the rationale for a congressional statute passed with minimal hearings and lacking in formal findings.  In addition, Supreme Court precedent offers some help to each side, but the rationale in several cases is open to  interpretation.  We have done our best to discern the direction of these precedents, but only the Supreme Court can finally decide this unique case….

To conclude, many Americans believe that marriage is the union of a man and a woman, and most Americans live in states where that is the law today.  One virtue of federalism is that it permits this diversity of governance based on local choice, but this applies as well to the states that have chosen to legalize same-sex marriage.  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.

Download the decision here. For more on the legal battle over gay marriage, check out Reason's previous coverage.