The First Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Thursday in Boston that the federal anti-gay marriage Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is unconstitutional, as the federal law forces states to discriminate against same-sex couples by not allowing them to grant federal benefits to couples who are legally married under the states' laws.
The court wrote in its opinion:
“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."
Passed in 1996, at a time when Hawaii said it would legalize gay marriage, DOMA was arguably setup by the Clinton administration to avoid requiring other states to recognize same-sex marriages from states where they are legal.
The new decision agrees with a lower court judge who in 2010 ruled that the law was unconstitutional because it interferes with a states right to define marriage as they saw fit. An attorney defending the law said that Congress had a rational basis for passing it in 1996, when opponents worried that states would be forced to recognize gay marriages performed elsewhere.
Since DOMA was passed in 1996, many states have instituted their own bans on gay marriage, while eight states (Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, Iowa, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland, Washington state, and the District of Columbia) have approved it.
Last year, President Barack Obama announced the U.S. Department of Justice would no longer defend the constitutionality of the law; and more recently, he declared his support for same-sex marriage when he said gay people should have the right to marry.