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Appeals court declares Defense of Marriage Act unconstitutional

May 31, 2012 - Andrea Johnson
It looks like the federal Defense of Marriage Act may be headed for a hearing in the Supreme Court.

According to the Associated Press, a federal appeals court in Boston just ruled that the Defense of Marriage Act -- which forbids federal recognition of gay marriage -- is unconstitutional. A court in California ruled last week that DOMA is unconstitutional.

This particular case was brought by three people in Massachusetts who were denied government benefits such as social security after the deaths of their gay spouses and by seven other gay couples who were denied federal benefits. Gays can get married in states like Massachusetts but the 1996 federal law denies them federal benefits and protections such as health benefits, social security benefits and medical leave. Gay marriage is currently legal in eight states and the District of Columbia and illegal in 42 states. The appeals court ruled that the feds can't deny federal recognition of gay marriage in states that have legalized it.

From a practical standpoint, I can see where these gay couples who are legally married in Massachusetts would find it insulting to be treated as second class citizens by the federal government when it comes to benefits. They would not have any of the advantages married couples get when filing a federal tax return either. If one spouse dies, the survivor doesn't get the social security benefits that support other widows or widowers. It doesn't sound fair to me.

It's going to be interesting to see this case move forward. I think eventually the Supreme Court will end up ruling that the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional altogether and that gay marriage must be legalized across the board, in all 50 states. I don't know if either of these cases will be the one that will do it, as it sounds like it might apply only to the states that have legalized gay marriage. If they rule that the feds only have to recognize gay marriages that are legal in eight states, the whole issue will continue to be a practical and legal nightmare.


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