Sixteen years ago, then President Bill Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which mandates that, for the purpose of federal law, marriage is defined as being between only a man and a woman. Also important, the law allowed states to completely ignore legal unions between same-sex couples conducted in other states.
To me – a child of the 90s – 1996 doesn’t seem that long ago. But, let’s put it in context: 1996 was, after all, the year that the Macarena swept the nation, and much like that beloved vestige of pop culture past, DOMA now seems as equally outdated.
Today, the Court of Appeals for the First Circuit – sitting in the center of the gay marriage universe, Boston – brought us back into the 21st Century and ruled that one of DOMA’s key provisions violated the U.S. Constitution. The opinion, written by the brilliant Michael Boudin – a George H.W. Bush nominee, to boot – was unanimous in its holding that the section of DOMA that defines marriage for federal purposes as being only between a man and a woman violates the federal constitution’s guarantee of equal protection. The opinion did not, however, opine on that other (and equally offensive) part of DOMA: the provision that allows states to ignore legally sanctioned unions between committed and loving same-sex couples if they so choose.
Today’s ruling reinforces an important legal fact: from a constitutional standpoint, moral disapproval cannot justify a law’s existence. Proponents of DOMA attempt to circumvent this fact, arguing that Congress only wanted to ensure a traditional and uniform definition of marriage. But, all of us who believe in the importance of equality and care about gay friends should see through these absurd “smoke and mirrors” arguments. The people who continue to defend DOMA do so based upon an animus towards, or general disapproval of, gay Americans. I think it’s time that we start recognizing their flimsy arguments for what they truly are: out-of-date, discriminatory, and, angry.
Today’s ruling will no doubt become yet another landmark decision in the growing library of pro-LGBT judicial decisions issued in the post-Lawrence years. And given the Obama administration’s refusal to defend the law’s constitutionality, as well as the growing support nationwide for marriage equality, this ruling comes as little surprise to those of us who follow these issues closely. Let’s take a moment and recognize the historic impact that today’s decision has.
Buckle your seatbelts, folks, because the fun is just beginning. Above all else, today’s decision means we have yet another case with a one-way ticket to the Supreme Court.