On Thursday, a federal appeals court in Boston ruled that a United States law that defines marriage as between a woman and a man unconstitutionally denies federal benefits to same-sex couples legally married. The law was created in 1996 and is known as the Defense of Marriage Act. The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit ruled by a vote of 3-0 that gay couples are discriminated against by the law. Gay marriage is legal in eight states and the District of Columbia.
“Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest,” Judge Michael Boudin wrote.
Joe Solmonese, the president of Human Rights Campaign, said, “For the first time, a federal appeals court has recognized that our Constitution will not tolerate a law that forces the federal government to deny lawfully married same-sex couples equal treatment. The writing is clearly on the wall for the demise of this unjust and indefensible law that hurts real families.”
The plaintiffs included seven same-sex married couples and three widowers. The plaintiffs claim that the law prohibits them from acquiring survivor benefits from the Social Security retirement program and prevents them from filing joint tax returns at the federal level. One of the plaintiffâ€™s Bette Jo Green, has been married since 2004 to Jo Ann Whitehead.
“How thrilling it is for us to know that the court believes in protecting our right to Social Security benefits as with all the other married couples in the country,” Green said.
Mary Bonauto, from the group Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders, said the following:
“We think this is a case that really could appeal to all members of the court because it is not only a double standard … this law is also a real outlier because it inserts Congress into an area that states govern,” Bonauto said.
In another case also being appealed, Martha Coakley, the Massachusetts Attorney General, said that the 10th Amendment of the United States Constitution was violated when the law was passed. The law was defended by the lawyers of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group of the U.S. House of Representatives. In 2010, a federal judge from Massachusetts said that a major section of the law is unconstitutional and the appeals court followed suit.
“It is unconstitutional for the federal government to create a system of first- and second-class marriages,” Coakley said in a statement.
The president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, Kri Mineau, said the following: “For a Massachusetts-based court to just audaciously proclaim that the federal government is wrong and has to recognize a unique social experiment in Massachusetts for the purpose of providing benefits is bizarre and a violation of the principles of our federalist system.”