In a unanimous 3-0 decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled that Section 3 of the Federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional. The Court concluded in Massachusetts v. Department of Health and Human Services that Congress’ denial of federal benefits to lawfully married same-sex couples (and their surviving spouses) violates constitutional principles of equal protection and federalism. The ruling came in a case filed in 2009 by Gay and Lesbian Advocates and Defenders on behalf of a group of married same-sex couples who were denied federal spousal benefits such as Social Security and government employee benefits, as well as a parallel case filed by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Today’s opinion upheld a 2010 decision in which U.S. District Judge Joseph Tauro ruled DOMA unconstitutional.
The Court applied a heightened rational basis scrutiny to the challenged sections of DOMA, finding that in the past the Supreme Court has "intensified scrutiny of purported justifications where minorities are subject to discrepant treatment and have limited the permissible justifications." With regard to Federalism, the Court found that the "Supreme Court decisions in the last fifty years call for closer scrutiny of government action touching upon minority group interests and of federal action in areas of traditional state concern."
Writing for a 3-judge panel, Judge Michael Boudin stated that there is no “connection between DOMA’s treatment of same-sex couples and its asserted goal of strengthening the bonds and benefits to society of heterosexual marriage,” and that “Congress’ denial of federal benefits to same-sex couples lawfully married in Massachusetts has not been adequately supported by any permissible federal interest.” The Court stayed its decision to permit the parties an opportunity to request review by the United States Supreme Court.
BALIF applauds the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit on this momentous decision and on affirming equality for same-sex couples and LGBT Americans!