Thursday’s unanimous decision by the three-judge panel of the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston that the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act was unconstitutional in its denial of federal benefits to married gay couples may be seen as "bizarre" or "arrogant" to DOMA advocates but its logic is crystal clear. That may not matter at some point to a five-member U.S. Supreme Court majority that is dismissive of logic and judicial precedent, but for now the decision constitutes another step forward in the fight for gay rights.
Two years ago Massachusetts, which in 2004 became the first state to approve gay marriage, filed a complaint under the direction of Attorney General Martha Coakley arguing that DOMA violated the Constitution by interfering with the state’s authority to define and regulate marital laws. The Boston-based Gay & Lesbian Advocates and Defenders joined the suit.
A U.S. District Court found DOMA to be unconstitutional in July of 2010, and when DOMA supporters appealed to the Court of Appeals the judges backed the circuit court. The court did not address the issue of whether gay couples have a right to marry, ruling only that DOMA violates states’ rights and unfairly denies gay married couples benefits provided to heterosexual married couples, such as the ability to file joint tax returns.
While Kris Mineau of the Massachu setts Family Institute found the ruling bizarre, it actually follows standard court reasoning in defending the rights of the states. As for the MFI president’s claim that the ruling is arrogant, we wonder where the arrogance really lies in this case. Gay married couples are asking for no more than the same rights that are given all married couples, which is hardly arrogant. After eight years, dire predictions that allowing gay marriage in Massachusetts would corrupt the institution or Massachusetts have proven groundless. Seven other state have followed Massachusetts’ lead and as others join them, DOMA will become as archaic as laws banning interracial marriage.
Many oppose gay marriage because of their ideology and/or theology, but neither matter in a country that is guided by the U.S. Constitution. In protecting the state from the church and the church from the state, and above all institutionalizing the rights of the individual, our Founding Fathers showed great wisdom. The ap peals court did the same in protecting the rights of gay married couples.