Posted by | July 8, 2010 20:56 | Filed under: Contributors Politics Sandi Behrns Top Stories

by Sandi Behrns

A Federal District Court judge has today declared the Federal Defense Of Marriage Act (DOMA) to be unconstitutional.  Judge Joseph L. Tauro (pictured) ruled the 1996 law violates the Constitutional right to equal protection and goes against the long-standing precedent of state control over marriage laws.  The ruling is in answer to two legal challenges brought in Massachusetts.

“This court has determined that it is clearly within the authority of the Commonwealth to recognize same-sex marriages among its residents, and to afford those individuals in same-sex marriages any benefits, rights, and privileges to which they are entitled by virtue of their marital status,” Tauro wrote. “The federal government, by enacting and enforcing DOMA, plainly encroaches upon the firmly entrenched province of the state.”

Tauro drew on history in his ruling, writing that the states have set their own marriage since before the American Revolution and that marriage laws were considered “such an essential element of state power” that the subject was even broached at the time of the framing of the Constitution. Tauro noted that laws barring interracial marriage were once at least as contentious as the current battle over gay marriage.

“But even as the debate concerning interracial marriage waxed and waned throughout history, the federal government consistently yielded to marital status determinations established by the states,” Tauro wrote. “That says something. And this court is convinced that the federal government’s long history of acquiescence in this arena indicates that, indeed, the federal government traditionally regarded marital status determinations as the exclusive province of state government.”

The ruling has been hailed by gay rights activists, as well as Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley, who brought one of the two legal challenges. “Today’s landmark decision is an important step toward achieving equality for all married couples in Massachusetts and assuring that all of our citizens enjoy the same rights and protections under our Constitution,” Coakley said.

Predictably, of course, there has been condemnation and hand-wringing from the right. With Andrea Lafferty, executive director of the Traditional Values Coalition, calling Tauro’s ruling “judicial activism” from a “rogue judge.”

Gay marriage advocates will keep pushing their agenda in the courts, she said, but noted voters often reject gay marriage at the ballot box, including in a recent California vote.

“We can’t allow the lowest common denominator states, like Massachusetts, to set standards for the country,” Lafferty said.

Coming in the midst of a Supreme Court confirmation fight, we will certainly hear much more of this from groups like Lafferty’s.  This decision will not end the legal wrangling, and we should expect an eventual appearance before the United States Supreme Court. However, today’s ruling is most likely to allow federal benefits to same-sex partners in states where marriage equality is the law. It may also play a part as legal precedent in cases such the Proposition 8 challenge, Perry v. Schwarzenegger, in California.

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Copyright 2010 Liberaland
By: Sandi Behrns

Sandi Behrns is a noted policy nerd, new media & web developer, and consultant to progressive organizations and campaigns. She is a senior contributor to Liberaland, and the Executive Editor of Progressive Congress News.